(Matchmaker Jack Hughes, Peekin Theater Arena, sponsored by the Legion-Elks Athletic Club)
Jan. 10 Bunny Martin beat Leo Jensen, Tom Ray beat Sailor Franz, George Bennett beat Curley Woods
Jan. 25 Bunny Martin beat Joe Reno, Jimmy Reynolds beat Jack Gorman, George Bennett drew Ray Lyness
Feb. 1 George Barnes beat Ken Hollis, Nap Sloavotti vs. Marvin Barackman, Henry Hill vs. Jack Mitchell
Feb. 7 Bunny Martin beat Marvin Barackman, Leo Jensen beat Joe Reno, Oscar Butler beat Otto Jorek
Feb. 14 Al Karasick beat George Barnes, Tom Ray beat Ken Hollis, Bobby Miller beat Oscar Holmes
Feb. 21 Tom Ray beat George Barnes, Bobby Miller beat Leo Burke, Jesse McCann drew Cowboy Welton
Feb. 28 Bobby Miller beat Bunny Martin, Leo Jensen drew Frank Clemons, Sailor Franz beat Oscar Butler
Mar. 7 Frank Clemons beat Leo Jensen, Bunny Martin vs. Walter Sirois, Heine Olson vs. Jimmy ReynoldsLONGVIEW, WASHINGTON WRESTLING, 1951-1952
(Matchmaker Harry Elliott, booked by Don Owen, Portland OR)
HAMMERLOCK KING TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS
(Kelso Kelsonian-Tribune, Sept. 13, 1951)
The mighty exponent of the hammerlock, Jack OReilly, met his match Monday evening (Sept. 10) at Fairgrounds Arena as Carl Engstrom of Minnesota took a two out of three falls decision from the Australian grappler.
Engstrom, 24, was born in Sweden but moved to Chicago with his parents at an early age. He attended DePauw University and was an excellent amateur wrestler and acrobatic dancer before turning to professional wrestling.
The first fall went to OReilly as Engstrom was forced to give up the round. The Aussie applied a series of hammerlocks, combined with such mat mayhem as slamming Engstrom into the padded turnbuckles holding the ropes in place.
The newcomer to the Northwest gained the second fall, however, forcing OReilly to give in to the intense pressure he applied. The fall was gained on a crab hold by the young Swede. He then returned to take fall number three with the tried and true combination of an airplane spin closely followed by a body press.
Because Buddy Jackson who was scheduled to appear in the opener, did not materialize until just barely time for the match, the semi-windup match between popular Jack Kiser and newcomer Kurt Von Poppenheim took place first. Von Poppenheim, resplendent in his cap-type robe, monocle, spade beard and short haircut, proved to be a "villain" type. The only fall was taken by the German matman, forcing Kiser to surrender with a back stretcher hold.
Plenty of action was shown in the match scheduled for the opening spot, as Kenny Mayne took a one-fall decision from Jackson, the muscular young Negro from Columbus, O. On the receiving end of several shoulder butts from Jackson, Mayne flipped the newcomer over, applying a body press for the fall.(ED. NOTE Kenny Mayne was the father of Lonnie (Moondog) Mayne, an incredibly popular performer in the 1960s and 70s.)
Sept. 10 Carl Engstrom beat Jack OReilly, Kurt Von Poppenheim beat Jack Kiser, Kenny Mayne beat Buddy Jackson
Sept. 17 Carl Engstrom beat Jack Carter, Kenny Mayne drew Mulak Yusoff, Jack OReilly beat Buddy Jackson
Sept. 24 Jack OReilly-Jack Carter beat Carl Engstrom-Kenny Mayne, Mulak Yusoff beat Buddy Jackson
Oct. 1 Carl Engstrom-Andy Tremaine beat Jack OReilly-Jack Carter, Con Bruno beat Mulak Yusoff
Oct. 8 Andy Tremaine beat Juan Humberto, Carl Engstrom drew Con Bruno, Jack Carter beat Gust Johnson
Oct. 15 Andy Tremaine beat Jack OReilly dq, Carl Engstrom beat Joe Greene, Jack Carter beat Danno McDonald
Oct. 22 Kurt Von Poppenheim beat Carl Engstrom, Jack Carter drew Luigi Macera, Danno McDonald drew Jack OReilly
ACTION PROVIDED BY MIDGET GRAPPLERS AT FAIRGROUNDS
(Kelso Kelsonian-Tribune, Thursday, November 1, 1951)
The mighty midgets put in their appearance Monday night (Oct. 29) at Fairgrounds Arena, giving fans a slam-bang, action-packed show. The colorful, pint-sized athletes staged a tag team match, winners being Sky Low Low and Vito Gonzales. They were pitted against Pee Wee James and Sallie Halassie.
Fans enjoyed every moment of this match, which gave the appearance of being a burlesque on wrestling in general. The little fellows were very earnest about it all, however, making use of all the tricks of the trade used by their full-sized counterparts.
Sky Low Low and Gonzales were the villains of the match, flailing away violently at their adversaries. Along with James and Halassie, they gave plenty of action, really mixing it up, both inside and outside of the ring.
In the semi-windup event, Kurt Von Poppenheim and Luigi Macera battled to a draw, each garnering one fall. The Prussian ruffian took the first fall by using his very effective back stretcher hold, which followed a back breaker, forcing Macera to submit.
Macera, from Canada, came back to take the second fall from Von Poppenheim. Using a shoulder butt to first bowl over the German grappler, Macera again knocked him to the mat with a flying drop kick, applying a body press for the necessary count of three. Time was called before either matman grabbed an additional fall. This was another rough, tough match, with both grapplers dishing out plenty of action.
The opening match pitted Jack OReilly against a newcomer to the local arena, Jack Britton of Detroit. OReilly garnered the only fall from the transplanted French Canadian, using a leg strangle and toe hold. This match also provided plenty of ring mayhem, both grapplers dishing out plenty of punishment before time was called.
Oct. 29 Kurt Von Poppenheim drew Luigi Macera, Sky Low low-Vito Gonzales beat Pee Wee James-Sallie Halassie, Jack OReilly beat Jack Britton
Nov. 5 Kurt Von Poppenheim beat Luigi Macera, Gino Nicolini drew George Strickland, Jack Carter drew Glen Detton
Nov. 12 Kurt Von Poppenheim beat Andy Tremaine, Glen Detton beat Jack Carter dq, Bill Parks beat Gino Nicolini
Nov. 26 Kurt Von Poppenheim beat Jack OReilly, Carl Engstrom drew Gordon Hessell, Bob DeMarce beat Gino Nicolini
Dec. 3 Jack OReilly beat Kurt Von Poppenheim cnc, George Dusette beat Gene Blakely dq, Galloping Ghost beat Gino Nicolini
Dec. 10 -- Kurt Von Poppenheim-Galloping Ghost beat Jack OReilly-Gene Blakely, Herb Parks beat Carl Engstrom
Dec. 17 Kurt Von Poppenheim-Galloping Ghost beat Herb Parks-Bill Parks, Jack Kiser drew Jack OReilly
Dec. 26 (Wednesday) Kurt Von Poppenheim beat Soldat Gorky, Cowboy Carlson beat Jack OReilly, Galloping Ghost drew Herb Parks
POPPENHEIM FINALLY LOSES
(Kelso Kelsonian-Tribune, Thursday, Jan. 10, 1952)
Arrogant Kurt Von Poppenheim, virtual ruler of Fairgrounds Arena for many weeks, finally met his match Monday night (Jan. 7) as he was thoroughly dumped by Herb Parks, the Canadian knee wrecker.
Parks took the two out of three fall match in the good old "I win-you win-I win" fashion, taking the initial fall with a cradle hold. As the Konigsberg cut-up rushed at him, Parks grabbed the German grapplers legs and downed him for the fall.
Poppenheim, naturally, came back to take the second fall, using his usual combination of back breaker and back stretcher, after first slamming Parks into the ring turnbuckle.
Parks returned to take a very quick third fall in one-half minute, delivering a series of knee and foot spikes to Von Poppenheims leg until stopped by Referee Glen Detton.
The semi-windup event paired off brother Bill Parks with a new meanie to the local arena, Buck Weaver. Parks gained the only fall with a double leg strangle, in a match that often involved not only the two principals but referee Detton.
Dale Kiser and Danny ORourke battled to a no-fall draw in the opening event.
Jan. 7 Herb Parks beat Kurt Von Poppenheim, Bill Parks beat Buck Weaver, Dale Kiser drew Danny ORourke
POPPENHEIM DEFEATS COWBOY CARLSON
(Kelso Kelsonian-Tribune, Thursday, Jan. 17, 1952)
Kurt Von Poppenheim, virtual ruler of Fairgrounds Arena until his defeat last week by Herb Parks, hit the comeback trail Monday night (Jan. 14) as he downed Cowboy Orville Carlson, the Montana bronc-buster, in an action-packed, one-hour brawl.
Carlson took the place of Ivan Gorky, who was originally scheduled to meet Von Poppenheim. Ivan, brother of notorious Soldat Gorky, failed to put in an appearance at the arena, in spite of heavy advance publicity. According to matchmaker Harry Elliott, the Siberian grappler was snowed in at Mt. Shasta, California, and unable to reach the arena in time for the match.
Carlson took the initial fall in the main event foulfest, downing the proud Prussian with a flying head scissors, following a series of flying head drops by the Cowboy.
As is only proper, the Konigsberg cut-up came back to take the second fall, using a reverse crab to force Carlson to submit for the fall. Von Poppenheim then gained the deciding fall number three with his tried and true combination of a back breaker and back stretcher hold.
In the semi-windup event, Bill Parks defeated popular Gino Nicolini in a half-hour battle with Parks gaining the only fall. During the offensive attack by Nicolini, Parks grabbed the opposing grappler and in a tangle of arms and legs, stood Gino on his shoulders for the three count.
The opener saw two newcomers to the local ring, Prince Omar and Ben Sherman, battle to a no-fall, 20-minute draw.
Jan. 14 Kurt Von Poppenheim beat Cowboy Carlson, Bill Parks beat Gino Nicolini, Prince Omar drew Ben Sherman
IVAN GORKY, POPPENHEIM SPLIT MATCH
(Kelso Kelsonian-Tribune, January 21, 1952)
Theres trouble a-brewing at Fairgrounds Arena.
The Gorky brothers claim to fame has been squelched for the second time by arrogant Kurt Von Poppenheim, as Ivan Gorky failed to win Monday night (Jan. 21) over the powerful Prussian in an action-filled one-hour battle that ended in a draw.
Previously, Von Poppenheim thoroughly trounced brother Soldat Gorky after one rushin Russian claimed he would end the Germans long-run winning streak. Ivan was after revenge Monday night, for his brothers defeat, but failed to come up with more than the resulting two-fall draw.
Before a near-record crowd, Gorky gained the initial fall with his famous Siberian wolf-leap after a fast bit of action on the ropes. Von Poppenheim returned the favor with his tried and true back breaker-back stretcher combination. Both grapplers tried to gain the deciding fall in the remaining few minutes, but time ran out before either accomplished the feat.
Another headliner, the Swedish Angel, met rangy Bill Parks in a special handicap, semi-windup event. The Angel, not to be confused with the famous French Angel, Maurice Tillet, agreed to down young Parks twice within 25 minutes or else forfeit the match. The Angel was only able to gain one fall from the muscular Canadian, however, accomplished with a series of chin flips and a body press.
In the opener, colorful Ben Sherman battled Marcel Ouimet, French flash, to a no-fall, 20-minute draw.
Jan. 21 Kurt Von Poppenheim drew Ivan Gorky, Bill Parks beat Swedish Angel (hdcp), Marcel Ouimet drew Ben Sherman
POPPENHEIM DEFEATED BY IVAN GORKY
(Kelso Kelsonian-Tribune, Thursday, Jan. 31, 1952)
Kurt Von Polppenheim, the proud Prussian, finally met his downfall Monday night (Jan. 28) at Fairgrounds Arena in the person of bewhiskered Ivan Gorky, who gained a two-fall victory via the foul route.
The first fall was taken by Von Poppenheim with his "German back breaker" a combination back breaker and back stretcher, a submission hold frequently used by the Prussian.
Gorky, however, wasnt put out of commission as readily as his opponent calculated. The Siberian grappler climaxed two minutes of slam-bang action with a body press, after clamming Kurts head into the ring turnbuckle several times.
Gorky was well on his way to another fall when the enraged Von Poppenheim picked the rushin Russian up and threw him from the arena, landing on the concrete floor amidst a group of surprised ringside spectators.
Referee Glen Detton looked with disfavor upon these violent ring actions and awarded the fall, and match, to the very groggy Gorky, calling a foul on Von Poppenheim. Gorky had to be carried to the dressing room as a result of the fall.
The semi-windup match saw bouncing Ben Sherman down Gino Nicolini in the only fall of the bout. Forty-two-year old Sherman gained the fall in 19 minutes, downing his Buffalo, N.Y., opponent with a reverse crab hold.
In the opener, York Cretorian (John Cretoria) made his local debut with aplomb, taking a one-fall victory from Marcel Ouimet.
Jan. 28 Ivan Gorky beat Kurt Von Poppenheim dq, Ben Sherman beat Gino Nicolini, John Cretoria beat Marcel Ouimet
Feb. 4 Kurt Von Poppenheim-John Cretoria beat Ivan Gorky-Ben Sherman, Bill Parks beat Marcel Ouimet
Feb. 11 Kurt Von Poppenheim-John Cretoria beat Ivan Gorky-Dr. John Gallagher, Buck Weaver beat Buck Davidson
Feb. 18 Kurt Von Poppenheim-John Cretoria drew Herb Parks-Bill Parks, Dr. John Gallagher beat Prince Omar
Mar. 3 Ivan Gorky-Soldat Gorky beat Kurt Von Poppenheim-John Cretoria, Gino
Nicolini beat Frenchy Roy
By John Molinaro
Barry Owen sits on his farm in Oregon, a husband and a father of two, trying to make ends meet as a cattle-rancher and working odd jobs for the city of Eugene.
Owen is estranged from today's wrestling world. His previous life, that of the dutiful son and right hand man of legendary Portland promoter Don Owen, seems like a forgotten, distant memory. But to the people of Oregon, the memory of the Owen Family and NWA Pacific NorthWest Wrestling (PNW) is inscribed into their collective conscience forever.
Now 88, Don Owen is hard of hearing, and struggling because his wife was recently put in a nursing home. SLAM! Wrestling's conversation with the elder Owen led to his son Barry to talk for his father.
"My dad still gets recognized on the streets in Portland today," Barry Owen told SLAM! Wrestling recently. "It's heartwarming to know that so many people remember my dad fondly."
Considering what Don Owen meant to Oregon, it's hard to imagine how they could possibly forget. From the 1930s until his retirement in 1992, Don Owen reigned as one of the most successful promoters in North America and was among the most visibly recognizable people in the state.
Regarded as one of the best offices to work for during wrestling's territorial days, Don Owen's PNW was the longest-running promotion in the United States.
The main reason why it endured for so long was because of Don's reputation as the classiest and most respected promoter in the business.
"My dad was a straight up guy," stated Barry. "He never stiffed anybody on money and always paid the wrestlers what he promised them. He dealt with everybody honestly and treated the boys as if they were family."
It's a promoting philosphy that served the Owen family well for over 60 years. Started by Barry's grandfather Herb Owen in the 1920s, PNW was a family-owned business, a true 'mom and pop' set-up, that evolved from a boxing into a wrestling promotion.
"My grandfather did both boxing and wrestling at the beginning," recalled Barry. "He even had Jack Dempsey on a few cards! My dad and Uncle Elton used to wrestle and help with the promoting until they eventually took over and just did wrestling."
As the son of Don Owen, it was inevitable that Barry would get involved in wrestling.
"I basically grew up in the wrestling business. I started when I was eight helping setting up chairs," reminisced Barry. "As I grew older, I would collect tickets at the door, help out at the box-office, act as security, I helped set up the ring, do the ring announcements. I did everything but wrestle."
When Uncle Elton retired in 1982, Barry assumed a management position, becoming Don's right hand man. Barry's main responsibility was looking after and managing the roster of wrestlers as well as promoting spot shows in between PNW's regular house show schedule.
"We'd hit towns like Eugene, Salem, Tacoma, WA every week and run Portland and Seattle every other week. In between, we'd do spot shows in places like Medford, OR and in Washington."
The promotion revolved around the Saturday TV tapings at the Portland Sports Center, a converted bowling alley and the promotion's home base. PNW's Saturday night program was a staple on Portland TV since 1948, airing live each and every week. It became a local institution, developing a loyal and faithful following of wrestling fans who practically grew up with Don and his family.
"The Portland wrestling fans were different in that they knew the wrestlers as people," recalled Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. "Watching the show, you could tell it was the same fans who would go to wrestling every Saturday night. They knew everyone and it was a real homey feel."
"The first several rows of ringside, you couldn't buy a ticket, because they were all permanent reservations," continued Meltzer. "The first six rows had the same people sit in those chairs for 52 weeks a year for years on end. The only way to get a ringside ticket was if one of them died, you literally had to be in their will."
"It was a special show," said Barry. "It was the longest running wrestling program on TV. What was amazing was that my dad never signed a contract with the TV station, it was just a handshake deal."
The show became a victim of its own success, however, when in the early 1990s station executives decided to move the show to a time slot past midnight.
"They wanted to make room for some paid programming and they explained it to my dad that we were doing so well and had such a loyal fan base that fans'll tune in no matter what the time is," stated Barry.
Initially, that was true as PNW's numbers held steady. But as time progressed, both the TV and the live audience at house shows slowly eroded away.
It's hard to imagine that house show revenue meant so much to a promotion in this day and age of monthly PPVs, cross-merchandising and Monday night ratings. In the corporate landscape of pro wrestling in 1999, house show gates are a relatively small piece of the revenue pie.
But for Don Owen and other promoters in the old territorial system, live attendance was the end all and be all.
"Our TV show was our life-line," explained Barry. "It was basically a paid advertisement for our live shows. It was how we sold tickets. It was our bread and butter."
"You have to understand that back then there wasn't the merchandising involved in wrestling like there is today," continued Barry. "We made money by selling wrestling tickets. We relied entirely on our TV show to get people to come out to the arenas. We had to get the fans following the storyline on TV into the arenas. It's a difficult job when people don't see the TV show."
The time slot change was just one of many factors leading to the downfall of PNW. In wrestling's golden days, promoters staked out their own geographical territory and it was generally understood that rival promoters couldn't encroach those territorial boundaries.
The WWF and later WCW changed all that in the 1980s when they ignored this time honored tradition of wrestling in their quest to go national.
"Vince McMahon basically told us that he was going to run us out of Portland," said Barry. "He came in, swiped some of our big guys away from us and started running opposite us in our territory. We just couldn't compete with New York (WWF) and Atlanta (WCW)."
Don also had the overzealous Oregon State Athletic Commission breathing down his neck. While most state commissions don't make it a point of enforcing their regulations, Oregon was the exception.
"They regulated us to death," said Owen. "They really made it hard for my dad to stay in business and be competitive with all their rules. Finally, he just had enough.
With the expansion of the "big two" into the Northwest, came the accompanying explosion of pro wrestling on cable TV. Barry feels this, more than anything else, had a devastating effect on his dad's business.
"Cable really hurts us," admitted Barry. "You had this overexposure of the WWF and other groups on cable, around 12 hours a week, and then you had to get people to come out to the arenas. They became burnt out on the product and pretty soon they figured why go out to the shows when you can watch wrestling for free at home."
Barry feels that death of the territorial system will, ironically, be the undoing of the WWF and WCW.
"It was really in their best interest to have us around," stated Barry. "Small territories like ours were where young wrestlers developed and gained experience. It was where the stars of tomorrow were going to come from. Now you're seeing the result of our demise. They're pushing green, inexperienced guys who aren't ready. I don't know where the stars of the future are going to come from."
And don't even get Barry started on the current state of the sport.
"I don't really follow it because where I am we don't have cable but from what I've seen I think it's garbage. It's not suitable for kids at all. It's got nothing to do with wrestling. It's more about entertainment more than anything."
Still, Barry bears no ill feelings towards McMahon.
"The guy made money so you can't really fault him for that."
Barry and Don Owen gave their all for this business. They played by the rules, worked hard and were a model of honesty. And in the end, they were steamrolled by that very same business, all in the name of progress and advancement.
One would think all of this has left Barry Owen a bitter man. Think again.
"I had a lot of fun in wrestling. Other than being shut down, I can't say I truly regret anything. I really enjoyed it. I don't have any grudges."
No regrets. No grudges. No bitterness. Seven years after leaving the business, and Barry Owen remains a classy guy.
He is his father's son.
(SLAM! Wrestling, Friday, September 24, 1999)
Don Owen could see the writing on the wall. He knew the end was near. The legendary NWA promoter of Pacific Northwest Wrestling saw his business drastically taper off.
The Oregon State Athletic commission was making it next to impossible for Owen to run a profitable promotion. Cable TV was providing a cheaper alternative to a night out of wrestling at one of his shows. The WWF and WCW were in his backyard running opposite him in a territory he once ruled. There was nothing he could do.
So on May 30th, 1992 PNW closed its doors and with it came the end of Don's reign as wrestling's most beloved promoter.
"All the boys liked my dad a lot," Don's son Barry told SLAM! Wrestling. "He paid you exactly what he told you and treated the wrestlers as if they were family. His word was his bond."
Now 88, Don Owen struggles to make it through each day. He's had several surgeries, is hard of hearing and his wife is in a nursing home. Contacted by SLAM! Wrestling, he proved a difficult interview for those very reasons.
Instead, his son and his admirers speak for him.
"Don Owen was a very good man," Omar Atlas told SLAM! Wrestling recently. Atlas, a wrestling journeyman who worked for virtually every major NWA promoter in his 30 plus years in the business, worked for Owen in the 1960s.
"He treated us like family. Each year he gave the boys turkeys for Thanksgiving."
While other promoters conned and cheated wrestlers on their payoffs, Don was universally regarded as the most honest and straight promoter in the business.
"Don Owen was the best payoff promoter in the business," remembered former NWA World champion Dory Funk Jr. During his tenure as NWA champ, Portland was a regular stop for Funk where he wrestled such stars as Stan Stasiak, Dutch Savage and Lonnie Mayne.
"Don paid the boys what he said right down to the penny," continued Funk. "He was a classy guy."
"Don had a good reputation as far as money guys," said Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer newsletter. "He was a fair payoff man compared to other promoters and the guys who worked his territory were making good livings."
With the death of PNW came the closure of one wrestling's best proving grounds for young talent. Don's promotion was where wrestling stars were born, and where others went to gain invaluable seasoning.
Portland was where Maurice Vachon became the Mad Dog, where Jesse Ventura became The Body and where Roddy Piper became Hot Rod. Virtually every major star who ever became a name in the U.S. and Canada, at one time or another, passed through Portland. Many, including Tom Zenk, Billy Jack Haynes, Jimmy Snuka and Curt Hennig, even got their start there.
"Verne Gagne sent Jesse Ventura to us for the first three years of his career," says Barry Owen of the current Minnesota Governor. "He really got his start with us."
Other top stars first gained recognition in Portland. Maurice Vachon was tagged with the monicker Mad Dog by Don his first night in the territory after nearly causing a riot and getting into a fight with the police.
But perhaps the most famous name to come out of Portland was the single most influential wrestler in history and the man who changed the face of pro wrestling forever: Gorgeous George.
"He was married to a girl here in Oregon and she used to make his ring robe and outfits," said Owen. "His wife put a lot of work into them so he took a long time taking his stuff off in the ring and really fussed over them and taking care of them. The outfits got more extravagant as time passed and he ended up taking more time."
"You can imagine how this went over with an audience full of loggers and lumberjacks," laughed Owen. "Here was this guy taking his time and they grew impatient and wanted the action to start. So he would use that and take even longer until the point where it became a part of his whole act. It really drew fans crazy. They were incensed."
As a member of the National Wrestling Alliance, Owen's Portland promotion was a regular stop for the touring NWA world Champion.
"From Lou Thesz to Ric Flair, we had every NWA champ come through here," stated Barry. "They all defended against whoever was our top guy at the time. Of all the champs, Ric Flair was the best draw for us. Every time he came in, it was a sellout."
Of the thousands of wrestlers who passed through Portland, Roddy Piper occupied a special place in Don's heart. Although he had experience in other territories prior to coming to PNW, Owen was the first promoter to see potential in Piper and gave him his first big push in the business.
"Piper was one of the best talents we ever had," says Barry. "He was just an incredible personality and a great worker. He really loved my dad, and the feeling was mutual. He was like part of the family."
Piper left Portland but he never forgot Don Owen. During his wrestling travels, Piper always seemed to find the time to come back and make an appearance on Don's TV show. Piper made his home and raised his family in Oregon, and was inextricably tied to the Owen promotion regardless of where he wrestled. He was very loyal to Don.
Even in retirement, Piper never forgot his mentor. He made a special appearance at a show on February 18, 1995 honoring Don for his decades of service to the sport, presenting him with a life time achievement plaque. Don was visibly moved that Piper returned to pay homage to him.
Such was the character of the man who brought out such loyalty out of people.
Still, Don doesn't complain.
"It bothers him but he doesn't say anything about it," says son Barry. "He's really not the type to complain."
Wrestling is made up of promoters and wrestlers always scheming to get ahead. It's a business based on hype. Don Owen brought less of it to the table than anybody else. He was a model of what a wrestling promoter should be. He will forever be remembered for the indelible mark of class, grace and dignity he left on this sport.
No one would fault Owen if he were upset over the hand that the wrestling industry dealt him in his final years. He certainly deserved much better.
By Tim S. Dills
In 1975 a kindly grandmother named Christine had a lot going for her. She was one of the few women to achieve much success in her chosen field. Her bosses, Nick and Roy, had been successful in business for over 25 years. Her son, Jerry, worked in the same business as his mother and was considered to have great instincts for that business. Despite these things Christine worked in a business known to be full of back-stabbing, dirty tricks and often, bad pay. Its enough to make a body wonder if this nice lady named Christine Jarrett ever looked at her young grandson, Jeff Jarrett, and wondered what she was doing working in the business of professional wrestling.
Nick Gulas began promoting wrestling in Tennessee in the late 1940s and early 1950s in conjunction with Roy Welch, his promoting partner. Welchs name lent instant credibility to most pro wrestling fans in Tennessee since the Welch family had long been in-ring favorites around the circuit. Nick was a small man with thick black-rimmed glasses and was of Greek descent. Nick and Roy owned pro wrestlings Tennessee territory. Many who worked for Gulas didnt like him because he came across as obnoxious and foul-mouthed. To some he was intimidating and came across as a bully. Sometimes his paydays, based on how many people actually paid to see an event or house show he promoted, were less than what were expected by those who worked those shows for him. Despite these factors most people who knew Nick Gulas admit he worked very hard to make his wrestling promotion successful. Early in his career Gulas hired Christine Jarrett to sell tickets to the weekly wrestling shows at the Hippodrome in Nashville.
Gulas would also eventually add another person who would become very instrumental in how the Tennessee territory would operate over time. That person was his son, George.
Roy Welch was a member of a large family of professional wrestlers. Along with brothers Jack, Herb and Lester, he had been a star throughout the South for many years. Roys son, Edward, also made a name for himself in the business as Buddy Fuller. Roy partnered with Gulas in promoting wrestling in Tennessee although it appears Gulas was the major force behind the day-to-day operation of the promotion. Welch remained a partner with Gulas for many years but his eventual decline in health would, over time, lead to changes in how the territory would operate.
Christine Jarrett moved up the ranks while working for Nick Gulas and Roy Welch. In the early 1970s she ran shows for the promotion in Louisville, KY, Lexington, KY and Evansville, IN. With the addition of these towns, the territory grew. Prior to the expansion into Kentucky and Indiana, Christine had been able to witness her son, Jerry, debut in ring as a professional wrestler in the late 1960s. Christine would remain involved in the business, on some level, for many years to arguably become the longest running female involved in a professional wrestling promotion.
Jerry Jarrett attended the pro wrestling matches in Nashville from a very early age since his mother sold tickets for Nick Gulas. Jerry sold programs and later tickets for Gulas in Nashville. Later he debuted as a wrestler for Gulas in 1969. He quickly became a major attraction in the area. He often excelled in tag matches with area stalwarts Jackie Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto.
Jarrett, a light-heavyweight, was an ideal good guy, or to use the much more appropriate carny lingo the wrestlers spoke, an ideal babyface. He was polite and humble during interviews. He believed in winning fairly and following the rules. In ring, Jarrett often had the role of helping his opponents, the bad guys, or heels, gather heat while he garnered crowd sympathy. Because of his smallish size and youthful appearance, Jarrett would take a beating which would sell the often illegal tactics of the heels. Fans sensing one of their favorites, the nice, good-looking and undersized Jarrett, was in trouble would became more involved in the match imploring Jarrett to tag his partner. Despite his success as an in-ring performer Jarrett became a student of the business and began to become more involved behind the scenes including booking the weekly Memphis house show. Over time Roy Welchs health began to worsen and Jerry became the chosen one to take over Welchs part of the business with Gulas.
The Actual Territory
By 1975 what most folks refer to as the Memphis territory included much more area than the city known as home to Elvis Presley. At various times in the history of the territory, based in Nashville, not Memphis, included regular and occasional stopovers in not only Memphis and Nashville but also Chattanooga, TN, Jackson, TN, Louisville, KY, Lexington, KY, Bowling Green, KY, Evansville, IN, Birmingham, AL, Huntsville, AL, Tupelo, MS, Jonesboro, AR, Dayton, OH, Wheeling, WV and even small towns in southeastern Missouri, northern Georgia and eastern North Carolina. For awhile in the 1950s, it even stretched to the Mobile, AL area. In addition for many years until the mid 1970s the eastern end of Tennessee, featuring the city of Knoxville promoted by John Cazana, formed a loose affiliation with the territory promoted by Gulas. Many of Gulas stars made regular appearances for Cazana with Gulas approval.
Business became so good for Gulas that the territory was split into two halves, the western end which included Memphis, Louisville, Lexington and Evansville and the eastern end which included Nashville, Chattanooga, Huntsville and Birmingham.
If you are unfamiliar with the cities mentioned please find a map and notice how far apart many of these cities are from one another. Airplanes can get us places fast now but the mode of travel for the wrestlers working the Gulas territory then was via automobile. Take another look at the map after that sinks in. It wasnt out of reason for some of the stars to work a show in Knoxville Friday night, stay over and work Knoxville TV Saturday morning, then drive to Chattanooga to do afternoon TV and stay to work the Chattanooga house show that evening then drive to Birmingham to do a live late night TV show there. Often, some of the wrestlers had to work Memphis TV on Saturday morning and then drive to work Saturday afternoon TV and the Saturday night house show in Chattanooga. Thats a nice five and a half hour drive today!
Television was an integral part of the success Gulas enjoyed throughout the region. From the 1950s forward the area had various forms of local televised wrestling. Many fans are well aware of the long-running TV show out of Memphis hosted for many years by arguably the greatest wrestling announcer ever, Lance Russell. Russells ability to sell angles to fans, to lead young stars through interviews and to communicate his disgust at the heinous acts of the nefarious bad guys, among his other talents, make him one of the areas most valued performers over the years. He will long be remembered for his verbal jousting with Jerry Lawler. Russell eventually was paired with popular Memphis TV weatherman Dave Brown to form a long-running announcing duo. Russell, who worked in the Memphis TV industry for several years, eventually left that line of work and worked full time as an announcer and behind the scenes in wrestling promotion.
Much of the eastern half of the territory was treated to the announcing of Harry Thornton. Thornton was a pioneer broadcaster in Chattanooga. He became involved with Gulas in the late 1950s and became a co-promoter in the Chattanooga area with Gulas. With Thorntons popularity from Chattanooga radio he added credibility and a local feel to Gulas efforts to succeed in the area. Thornton could never be called a classic wrestling announcer along the likes of a Gordon Solie or a Jim Ross. However, Thornton understood his role in the business was to make the TV show exciting and to make the TV viewers care enough about what they saw to be willing to spend their money to see the live house show that week. Thornton did not like wrestlings heels and made no bones about it in his commentary and often in interviews with them. He often verbally sparred with the likes of Tojo Yamamoto and Gentleman Saul Weingeroff. Thornton also often worked the TV show taped in Nashville over the years adding his colorful personality to the show there.
Gulas also, at various times, had local TV shows produced in Birmingham and Huntsville, as well as in Jackson, TN and Nashville, TN. Gulas Birmingham announcer was Sterling Brewer. After the Atlanta office underwent some turmoil in late 1972 (detailed to some degree later due to ties to the Tennessee office) Brewer was hired as an interim announcer for the NWA Georgia office. He worked there a few weeks before a permanent replacement was chosen. Brewer was replaced by Championship Wrestling from Floridas Gordon Solie, who became the voice of Georgia Championship Wrestling for the next decade. That show and host became fixtures on the fledgling WTCG-TV 17 station which would later evolve into WTBS and later TBS.
A short list of people who worked in some capacity or another in this territory in some capacity other than in ring as a wrestler through the years would include Bert Bates, Tony Lawo, Ron West, J.C. Dykes (as a referee), Tommy Sloan, Paul Morton, Norman Veasey, Lee Williams, Mike Duncan, Scott Teal, Honey Wilds, Jim Kent (an announcer not the manager from the 1970s) and countless others.
From time to time a group would form and try to promote wrestling somewhere in the territory against the established Gulas. In the fall of 1972, Phil Golden opened up a promotion based out of Paducah, KY and ran several cities in opposition to Gulas using such stars as Mike Pappas, Joe Ball and Bill Helm, Mario Galento, Paul Christy, Angelo Poffo, Pez Whatley, Chico Cortez and others. The promotion was based around longtime Gulas villains Kurt and Karl Von Brauner and their manager Gentleman Saul Weingeroff, who left the Gulas promotion at the end of the summer of 1972. The promotion folded in the spring of 1973. It should be noted that Golden was the brother of Bill Golden, who opened up the Montgomery, AL territory in 1971. Bill Golden, the father of Jimmy Golden, had married into the famous Welch family that had strong ties to the Gulas promotion.
Also notable among those who tried to run opposition was Lee Fields. In 1974 Fields tried to promote opposite Gulas in Nashville. Lee had run the Gulf Coast promotion since 1958. Among the stars Fields used in his effort against Gulas was Jack Dalton, known to most Gulas fans as Don Fargo. What is interesting about this endeavor is that Fields had worked previously for Gulas, along with his brothers, Don and Bobby. Bobby, as Luke Fields, had teamed with Don to become one of Gulas most successful teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In reality, Lee, Don and Bobby Fields were Lee, Don and Bobby Hatfield, sons of Gulf Coast wrestling referee legend, Virgil "Speedy" Hatfield. Most interesting of all perhaps in regards to this attempt to run opposite Gulas is that Speedy Hatfield was married to Bonnie Welch, the sister of Gulas promoting partner, Roy Welch.
There were other attempts to run opposition against Gulas but Nick would survive them through the years. The future though would hold more opposition for Gulas from time to time.
The Gulas territory, as most every territory, had a fairly wide array of recognized titles. Gulas was a member of the National Wrestling Alliance and over the years was able to secure dates with the various NWA World Heavyweight and World Junior Heavyweight champions. Gulas had a number of titles regularly defended throughout the circuit. Among these were the World tag titles, the Southern Junior Heavyweight title (which was eventually renamed the Southern Heavyweight title), the Southern tag titles, the Mid-America Heavyweight title, the Mid-America tag titles and the United States Junior Heavyweight title.
Before discussing the various titles Gulas recognized it is important to note that the territory became known over the years as a haven for great tag teams. For years, many Gulas cards were headlined with a tag team match, often for one of the areas top tag titles. Over the years Gulas also used many masked tag teams including Mephisto and Dante, The Mighty Yankees, The Blue Infernos, The Spoilers, The Interns, The Medics and others. Some say because masked teams drew great crowd response in the area (and, in turn, money at the ticket gate) Gulas could book a masked team in two cities on the same night and have four different men wrestle under the masks. This would make it possible, for example, to have The Yankees appear in Memphis on Monday night while a few hundred miles away in Birmingham the Yankees were also headlining a card there. It goes without saying that Nick Gulas was a very shrewd promoter. Even with that in mind it is ironic though that Gulas really dropped the ball in the late 1960s and early 1970s by failing to fully utilize one of the greatest masked tag teams ever, the Infernos, with manager J.C. Dykes. Dykes had refereed for Gulas for a number of years before becoming a manager but had to leave the area to hit it big.
The World tag titles were held by such teams as Corsica Joe and Corsica Jean, Jackie and Don Fargo, Don and Al Greene, Tex Riley and Len Rossi, Kurt and Karl Von Brauner with manager Gentleman Saul Weingeroff, Don and Luke Fields, Lester and Herb Welch, Eddie Graham and Sam Steamboat, Tojo Yamamoto and Alex Perez, The Blue Infernos, Billy and Jimmy Hines, Ken Lucas and Dennis Hall, Len Rossi and Bearcat Brown, Big Bad John and Pepe Lopez, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Jarrett, The Fabulous Kangaroos: Al Costello and Don Kent managed first by George Cannon and later by Sir Steven Clements and other teams. Research indicates Gulas stopped using the World tag titles around 1974 although throughout the 70s a few teams would pass through the area from time to time claiming to be World tag champions.
The Southern tag titles date back to the late 1940s. Champions over the years include Herb Welch and Tex Riley, Roy Welch and Eddie Gossett, Herb Welch and Roy Welch, Don and Luke Fields, Mephisto and Dante, Tex Riley and Len Rossi, Jackie Fargo and Lester Welch, The Medics, Jackie Fargo and Tex Riley, Jackie Fargo and Len Rossi, The Blue Infernos, The Mighty Yankees, Joe and Bill Sky, Don Carson and The Red Shadow (a masked Dick Dunn), Tojo Yamamoto and Johnny Long, Don and Al Greene, The Interns with manager Dr. Ken Ramey, Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett, Kurt and Karl Von Brauner, Sputnik Monroe and Norvell Austin, Jackie and Roughhouse Fargo, Len Rossi and Kevin Sullivan, The Bounty Hunters with manager Jim Kent, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Jarrett, Terry and Ronnie Garvin with manager Jim Garvin, Jerry Lawler and Jim White with manager Sam Bass, Eddie Marlin and Tommy Gilbert and others. This title would continue to be defended consistently in the area through 1987.
The Mid-America tag titles began to be defended in early 1972 by Len Rossi and Tony Charles. Other champions include Kurt and Karl Von Brauner with manager Gentleman Saul Weingeroff, Don and Al Greene with maanger Sir Steven Clements, Len Rossi and Bearcat Brown, The Interns managed by Dr. Ken Ramey, Tojo Yamamoto and Big Bill Dromo, Lorenzo Parente and Bobby Hart managed by Don Duffy, Ken Lucas and Cowboy Frankie Laine, Eddie Marlin and Tommy Gilbert, Tojo Yamamoto and Tommy Gilbert, Terry Garvin and Duke Myers managed by Jim Garvin, Jackie Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto, The Bounty Hunters managed by Jim Kent, Terry Garvin and Ronnie Garvin managed by Jim Garvin and others. This tag title was defended in the area through 1980.
The Mid-America title was originally defended in the territory by the legendary Nature Boy Buddy Rogers in 1957. The title was defended some in the late 1950s but apparently fell inactive until around 1971 when Len Rossi was billed as champion. The title would become more prominent in the region in the mid and late 70s and would continue to be defended until 1987.
The United States Junior Heavyweight title was defended some in the Gulas area over the years, most notably in the early 1970s. It is listed here primarily because the list of men who held the title is short but prestigious and includes Johnny Walker (later known as Mr. Wrestling II), Don Greene (a long-time Gulas attraction), Lorenzo Parente (a very underrated talent who had defeated the legendary Danny Hodge in the mid 1960s to hold the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title) and Lou Thesz (former seven-time NWA World champion).
The singles title that came to become the areas major title was the Southern Junior Heavyweight title. A list of champions includes Ray Piret, Herb Welch, Tex Riley, Rowdy Red Roberts, Mario Galento, Ray Stevens, Freddie Blassie, Jackie Fargo, Jesse James, Len Rossi, Don Greene, Tojo Yamamoto, Sputnik Monroe, Tommy Gilbert, Ronnie Garvin and Lou Thesz, among others. Due to the area usually headlining shows with tag teams this title wasnt as prominent during the 1950s and 1960s as it would become in the 1970s and 1980s. The Southern Junior Heavyweight title would be renamed the Southern Heavyweight title in the summer of 1974.
There were other titles defended in the Gulas area throughout the years but the ones
listed here were the ones used in prominent positions on shows for a great amount of time.
By Tim S. Dills
January-The year began with Tommy Gilbert winning the Southern Junior Heavyweight title from Ronnie Garvin in Birmingham. Others active for Gulas at this time included Don Greene, Bearcat Brown, Eddie Marlin, Dennis Hall who feuded with Buddy Wayne, Sir Steven Clements and The Fabulous Kangaroos: Al Costello and Don Kent, The Bounty Hunters with manager Jim Kent and The Masked Mighty Yankees with manager George Harris. Harris had worked for Gulas as a referee and wrestler dating back to the 1950s and knew the Welch family from early on in life. The Yankees would later be unmasked as Frank Morrell and Charles Morrell, supposed half-brothers. Frank had worked with Eddie Sullivan as The Yankees for Gulas in the late 1960s. Charles would later modify his name to Charles Morrell-Fulton and eventually to Charles Fulton. He would remain in the area for much of the year and later team with newcomer Bobby Mayne. This month also saw Johnny Marlin wrestle in the area. Johnny was billed as cousin to area wrestler Eddie Marlin and referee Tommy Marlin. Johnny wasnt related to the Marlins at all. Gulas noticing the resemblance of Johnny to Eddie and Tommy decided to bill Johnny as their cousin. Hopefully, Johnny, who wrestled everywhere else as Johnny Eagles, rarely spoke in the territory because he was British. Nicks son, George also debuted in the ring in many of the area cities mainly appearing in six man tag matches. Meantime, Jerry Lawler split his time between appearing for Gulas and for the promotion in Georgia.
February-The most significant occurrence this month was Tojo Yamamoto turning on tag partner Jerry Jarrett. Jackie Fargo ended up battling Yamamoto much of this month attempting to avenge Jarretts honor. J.C. Dykes Infernos were Southern tag champions. The legendary Lou Thesz made regular appearances in the area. New to the region was Ali Viziri, known years later as Hossein the Arab and The Iron Sheik. George Gulas formed a regular tag team with Gulas favorite Dennis Hall.
March-On the 11th Jackie Fargo battled Jerry Lawler in Memphis in one of their early battles for the unofficial "King of Memphis" title. Fargo feuded in part of the territory with The Bounty Hunters which lead to Fargo teaming with his brother Roughhouse. Jerry Jarrett returned to ring action to even the score with Tojo Yamamoto. Yamamoto often teamed with his latest protégé a Japanese star billed as Mr. Kamikaze.
April-Jerry Lawler injured Jackie Fargo this month. Lawler continued to appear on some Georgia cards often with one-time Gulas star Art Nelson as his tag partner. Lawler did appear on a major show at Atlantas new arena, the Omni. The Omni card featured the first Atlanta appearance of Andre the Giant as he faced Gulas regulars The Bounty Hunters. Back in Tennessee, Lou Thesz was the Southern Junior Heavyweight champion. Phil Hickerson began to make some noise around the territory as did the Alabama-based tag team of Mike Jackson and Tony LeDoux. The legendary Bobo Brazil made some appearances in the area.
May-Jerry Lawler defeats U.S. Junior Heavyweight champion Steve Kovacs for that title in Chattanooga. Lawler then runs into a feud with newcomer Ricky Gibson. Charles Fulton teamed with Bobby Mayne and they were managed by Sir Steven Clements. Mayne achieved greater success years later as Hangman Bobby Jaggers. Fulton and Mayne attacked Jerry Jarrett and Jarretts mentor, Tojo Yamamoto, who had held the briefly recognized Southeastern tag titles (not affiliated with the Knoxville territory) with Mr. Kamikaze, rescued his protégé and once again fell in favor with the fans.
June-Jackie Fargo returns to be special referee for matches pitting Southern champion Jerry Lawler against Ricky Gibson. By months end Fargo and Lawler would battle each other in matches around the territory again. The veteran Al Greene forms a team with upcoming star Phil Hickerson. This team managed by Sam Bass was often referred to by announcers as The Sherman Tanks because both men were heavyset and plowed through much of their opposition.
July-The Lawler-Fargo feud continued this month. Lawler also battled Bobo Brazil and Mr. Wrestling II. The Southern tag title scene grew very clouded as Charles Fulton and Bobby Mayne, Tommy Gilbert and Ricky Gibson and Rufus R. Jones and George Gulas all laid claim to the titles during the month. (It is quite possible that sometimes Gulas, with a large territory available and with TV shows spread apart in those territories, carried two different sets of champions in various cities without fearing the fans would discover what he was doing.). Chris Gallegher debuts in the area. Gallegher later became more well known as Dutch Mantel.
August-Jerry Lawlers role as lead wrestler in the company was tested this month as he fought off challenges from Jackie Fargo, Bobo Brazil, Tojo Yamamoto, the legendary Dick the Bruiser and the returning Robert Fuller, who had just finished a successful run in Georgia. Al Greene and Phil Hickerson feuded with Tojo Yamamoto and Jackie Fargo. Fargo also found time to wrestle some matches against the sports wildest attraction The Sheik, who debuted for Gulas.
September-Lawler, who with manager Sam Bass had faced the areas top attractions and had also faced some of the biggest name stars in the business during the year, finally received a shot at the big prize, the NWA title. Lawler battled champion Jack Brisco on the 16th in Memphis. Andre the Giant debuted for Gulas in many of the territorys cities this month usually by taking on and defeating two opponents. The Sheik defended the Detroit version of the U.S. title in selected cities, while Lou Thesz, Bobo Brazil and Harley Race also were featured on cards this month. Al Greene and Phil Hickerson held onto the Southern tag titles.
October-The alliance between Jerry Lawler and Sam Bass and Basss other charges, Al Greene and Phil Hickerson, fell apart this month, at least in part of the territory. (Lawlers turn into fan favorite would play out later in some cities.) Lawler accused Bass of not being totally honest with him and suggested that Bass no longer had Lawlers best interests in mind but had instead placed a bounty on him. Greene and Hickerson objected and along with Bass turned on Lawler. Meantime, Greene and Hickerson lost the Southern tag titles to Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett. Don Kent, who briefly held the Mid-America tag titles with Chris Gallegher in the late summer, added Sir Clements as his manager and also added the Mid-America title to his waist.
November-Gulas added another title to the mix this month by holding a tournament in Chattanooga to crown the first World Six Man Tag champions. Jackie Fargo, Dennis Hall and George Gulas down Juan Sebastian, Don Kent and Jerry Lawler in the finals to become champions. Lawlers babyface turn occurred in other cities in the territory. Sam Bass began sending in stars to put Lawler out of action such as The Mummy, Duke Myers and Count Drummer. Lawler and Tojo Yamamoto won the Southern tag titles from Al Greene and Phil Hickerson. Sam Bass began managing a masked team called The Pittsburgh Stealers, apparently to capitalize on the success of the football team the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jackie Fargo and George Gulas won the Mid-America tag titles. New to the area: Dennis Condrey, Jerry Barber, Tex McKenzie and Johnny Gray. Ronald Welch, also known as Ron Fuller and as the grandson of Gulas promoting partner Roy Welch, purchased the Knoxville territory from longtime promoter John Cazana.
December-Jerry Lawler battled ex-manager Sam Bass in some matches this month and also defended the Southern title in Knoxville against former champion Tommy Gilbert. Also in Knoxville, Lawler served as a second to Ron Fuller who feuded with Jackie Fargo who was seconded by Ron Wright. New to Knoxville were Nelson Royal, Dutch Mantel and John Foley, Johnny Weaver and Professor Dale Lewis. Lawler also continued to feud with Al Greene and Phil Hickerson and chose Ray Candy to be his partner. Big Bad John returned to the area and along with Lorenzo Parente and Johnny Gray brutalized Jerry Barber on TV by repeatedly smashing Barber into Johns metal motorcycle helmet. Mr. Pro was unmasked as Dennis Condrey. Mid-America champion Don Kent fended off challenges from Jackie Fargo.
1974 ends with Jerry Lawler as the territorys top singles star while the territorys longtime singles star Jackie Fargo remained a valuable attraction. Longtime star Al Greene had formed a formidable team with the promising Phil Hickerson while longtime favorites Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett remained in the mix. Gulas also had some raw talent rapidly developing such as Dennis Condrey, Jimmy Golden and Johnny Gray. He also had steady veterans such as Dennis Hall, Don Greene and Lorenzo Parente ready in the wings. Gulas also enjoyed the luxury of exchanging talent fairly regularly with the Knoxville office. This allowed both offices access to each others talent. Gulas own son, George, had a year of ring experience under his belt and had been featured in a fairly major way in some cities, but was still mostly unproven on his own since he had been featured in mainly tag matches.
1975 held some questions for area wrestling fans. Could anyone stop Jerry Lawler? Would Jackie Fargo continue to be the areas favorite star? The answers would unfold over the next twelve months.
1975 sees Lawler spend some of his time having to "mask" some of his talents
while Fargo would have a "crazy" year. In an area "rich" with talent
1975 would find Gulas discovering a new "superstar" or two while even fans from
"Outer Mongolia" would find reason to cheer for the year that was about to dawn.
By Tim S. Dills
Nick Gulas and Roy Welch, along with Christine and Jerry Jarrett ran the wrestling promotion in Tennessee. Jackie Fargo and Jerry Lawler were the top area singles stars and had feuded with each other much of 1974. As 1975 started they would continue to play a major part of what went on in the area and would be joined by a host of interesting characters including a Mongolian madman, a homegrown talent and a talented star from the land down under.
"Lets Go Crazy"
Jackie Fargo first appeared in the territory in 1954. For years he had been a part of the team known as The Fabulous Fargos. Jackie had been an arrogant heel until he rescued Len Rossi from a beating in September 1961 from the masked duo of Mephisto and Dante. From that moment forward, Jackie was the areas leading babyface.
Fargo had battled all the bad guys that had come down the pike over the years including a feud that ran off and on for over a decade against Don and Al Greene. Fargo partnered with many top names over the years but most often with his "brothers" Sonny (Roughhouse) and Don and also with Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett.
Early 1975 saw the return to the area of Crazy Luke Graham. It would not take long before Fargo would cross paths with Graham.
Graham was part of the famous Graham family. In reality, Luke and his Graham brothers, Eddie, Jerry and Billy, like the Fargo Brothers, werent really related. (Theres also some debate that the Fabulous Fargos gimmick was a rip-off of the Golden Grahams gimmick made famous by Jerry and Eddie.) Luke had made his first appearance in the area over a decade earlier in 1964. In 1966 he returned forming a villainous team with Chin Lee.
Graham had wrestled in many territories over the years including a 1971 run in the WWWF where he and Tarzan Tyler were recognized as WWWF tag champions and also as WWWF International tag champions. Luke also headlined a main event in New York Citys famed Madison Square Garden on June 21, 1971 in a losing effort against WWWF champion Pedro Morales.
Luke had a taped thumb gimmick he used in the territory. His right thumb would be covered with tape and at the opportune time he would, away from the sight of the referee, jab his thumb into the throat of his opponent. His opponent would sell the move as if he had been leveled by a bulldozer. Fans, aware of the illegal tactic, would then reign catcalls and boos down on Graham.
Upon his return to the area, Graham paired up with Don Duffy. Duffy was another veteran who had seen action in the area in 1972 as manager to Lorenzo Parente and Bobby Hart. After the team of Jerry Lawler and Jim White split, Lawler teamed with a masked man billed as The Scorpion. Don Duffy was the man behind that mask. Duffy had also traveled the territories achieving success in the Gulf Coast area, California and Michigan.
Together, Graham and Duffy quickly began a feud with Jackie Fargo by attacking him on Chattanooga TV. Jackie called on brother Roughhouse to help out. Lukes wild in-ring behavior was matched by the unorthodox Roughhouse and the two teams battled in several cities in the territory for a few weeks.
After a few weeks, Jackie wound up in matches against The Bounty Hunters while Graham and Duffy feuded with the team of Jimmy Golden and Johnny Gray. Then the unexpected happened.
Graham ran afoul of a new team in the area, Rocket Monroe and Randy Tyler. Graham needed a partner. He determined there was only one man he knew who could hold his own against Monroe and Tyler. That man was Jackie Fargo. Fargo was hesitant about teaming with Graham, a man who had battered him and his brother a few weeks earlier. Graham gave his word and the promise of money that he would not turn on Fargo. Fargo thought about it for awhile but then agreed and the years most unlikely combo was formed: The Fabulous Jackie Fargo and Crazy Luke Graham.
Fargo and Graham teamed for a few weeks against Monroe and Tyler then split on good terms. Graham would remain in the area a little while longer and formed a team with area favorite Steve Kovacs (later to gain fame in Georgia and Mid-South as Stephen Little Bear) and together they battled the Sam Bass-managed combination of Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller. Von Stieger and Von Heller were a German heel team that allowed Graham to become even more popular. Graham would leave the territory later but he and Fargo would see each other again in a few years.
Meantime, Fargos crazy year continued as he ran afoul of Chris Colt, Mike Boyette and Bill Colt. This trio also teamed some with Bill Dundee. The Colts and Boyette appeared as hippies with long hair and a grungy look. Their physical appearance stood in stark contrast to the conservative values held by many of the area fans. Fargo called on his brothers, Roughhouse and Don to help him out in this feud.
During the summer, Jackie Fargo and George Gulas laid claim to the US tag titles. This tag title was mainly defended in the eastern end of the territory. Also, Fargo and Mr. Wrestling would become Southern tag champions. This duo would eventually lose the titles to The Interns managed by Dr. Ken Ramey.
Speaking of the Interns, Fargo also found himself partnered with veteran Pepper Gomez for a few weeks in the fall against the masked combo and their manager. The two veterans would not stay together too long as Gomez left the area after staying just a few weeks.
At some point in the late summer or early fall, Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey won the US tag belts. Fargo and the returning Don Carson took those titles for a brief run.
Fargo spent the rest of the year mainly in tag matches. His partners included Jerry Jarrett, Roughhouse Fargo, Bob Armstrong, Andre the Giant and Lester Welch. Fargo mainly competed in these tag matches against The Interns, The Bounty Hunters managed by Jim Kent and Hickerson and Condrey.
1976 was around the corner for the long time area superstar, Jackie Fargo. It would be the year he would get to know the fast rising team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey up close and personal.
January-March 1975 in Review
1974 had ended with a wild scene on Chattanooga TV. Big Bad John, Lorenzo Parente and Johnny Gray had attacked Jerry Barber and left him beaten and battered. John was a big man with long black hair and beard. He wore a motorcycle helmet. To batter Barber, Parente and Gray ran Barber repeatedly into Johns helmet. For revenge Barber enlisted the help of Bearcat Brown and George Gulas. The two teams met in a stretcher match on January 4th in Chattanoogas Memorial Auditorium. Gray, though, was injured and could not compete. His spot on the team was taken by Ed Kowalski. Kowalski would be carted off that night as Barber, Gulas and Brown won. Kowalski would only appear in the territory for a few weeks. He is just one more name on a long list of wrestlers who early in their career passed through the territory only to become a big name star elsewhere later. Kowalski would achieve some fame as Ed Wiskowski and Derek Draper before gaining more fame in the 1980s as Colonel DeBeers. Also on the January 4th card, Jackie Fargo downed Bulldog Don Kent to win the Mid-America title. Kent would regain the title within the month.
The Southern tag titles went up for grabs in a tournament in Louisville on January 7 after champions Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Lawler split. The tournament was won by Tojo Yamamoto and Eddie Marlin.
Ron Fuller held the Southern title. Fuller also operated the Knoxville office. Appearing in Knoxville this month were stars such as Dutch Mantel, John Foley, Les Thatcher, Nelson Royal, Dennis Condrey and Professor Dale Lewis. Fuller topped off January (on the 24th) with a major show in Knoxville that saw NWA champion Jack Brisco, Nelson Royal, Womens champion The Fabulous Moolah, Vicki Williams, Southern champion Ron Fuller, Cowboy Bill Watts, Mid-America champion Don Kent, Ron Wright, John Foley & Dutch Mantel, Eddie and Mike Graham, Danny Hodge, Les Thatcher, Professor Dale Lewis and Steve Keirn. Fuller also brought hot new star Ric Flair in from the Carolinas to battle Olympic strongman Ken Patera. Fuller, still using some Gulas-Welch talent, was beginning to create his own unique territory and in so doing needed Gulas-Welch talent less and less.
As Southern champion, Fuller made regular appearances all over the Gulas-Welch territory and usually every Friday night in Knoxville, as well. During January Fuller defended the title against Jerry Lawler in Memphis and Ron Wright in Knoxville. He also took time to team with Danny Hodge in Memphis to battle Dick the Bruiser and Jerry Lawler. In February Fuller battled Lawler, Steve Kovacs, Phil Hickerson, Lou Thesz and Ron Wright (one Knoxville newspaper clip even lists Wright as Southern champion). Challengers for Fullers title in March include Danny Hodge and Al Greene.
NWA champion Jack Brisco came to the area near the end of January to defend the title. He had a wide variety of opponents for his week in the territory. Among his defenses: in Memphis against Steve Kovacs, in Louisville against Ron Fuller, in Chattanooga against Don Kent and in Knoxville against Nelson Royal. Brisco would return to Memphis on February 3rd to get a win against Jerry Lawler.
Veteran Crazy Luke Graham returned and feuded with Jackie Fargo. He also feuded with Tommy Gilbert in some cities around the circuit. Graham and Duffy then feuded with Jimmy Golden and Dennis Condrey in some Alabama cities early in the year. Later, Graham and Duffy would attack Golden and heel Johnny Gray would rescue Golden leading to Golden and Gray teaming to battle Graham and Duffy. During his stay in the area, Graham also had a run as Mid-America champion when he defeated Jackie Fargo.
Sam Bass, who made a name for himself in the area by first managing Jim White and Jerry Lawler and later, Al Greene and Phil Hickerson, began managing a new team, Ron and Don Bass. The Bass trio soon found themselves battling Jackie Fargo, George Gulas and Dennis Hall, among others.
Another team made an impact on the territory after debuting. This team was the combo of George Barnes and Bill Dundee. A few weeks after debuting in the area they defeated Tojo Yamamoto and Eddie Marlin to win the Southern tag championship. Prior to their championship win Barnes and Dundee got a win over Tojo Yamamoto and Dick the Bruiser in Memphis.
The team of Rocket Monroe and Randy Tyler also hit the area during the first three months of the year. They battled the team of Bearcat Brown and Joey Rossi in many cities around the horn.
Also notable in the area during January, February and March include the legendary Lou Thesz, Andre the Giant, The Bounty Hunters managed by Sir Clements and others including Billy and Benny McGuire. The McGuires were six hundred pound twins who worked the area usually a couple of times each year.
A few other significant things occurred early in 1975 affecting the territory. On February 16th WRCB-TV (NBC affiliate) in Chattanooga began airing the syndicated version of Georgia Championship Wrestling every week. Gulas TV show had aired for nearly a decade on WDEF-TV (CBS affiliate) and Gulas had aired a TV show in the Chattanooga market dating back to the late 1950s. The GCW show did promote area wrestling, a weekly Thursday night GCW card in Rome, Georgia, about 75 miles south of Chattanooga. Rome was barely in the Chattanooga TV market but GCW never competed directly against Gulas in Chattanooga. Damage would be done though over the long haul. The TV show exposed area fans to a different brand of wrestling complete with better TV production. When GCWs parent station, WTCG, went superstation status a few years later the Georgia product seemed more special to some fans since it could be watched by many more viewers than the local Gulas product. The GCW promotion also received liberal coverage in most of the national newsstand magazines. These same magazines rarely gave coverage to the Gulas territory. Gulas couldnt have been too happy with the new TV show airing inside his territory. As members of the National Wrestling Alliance both sides, Gulas and GCW, had an understood agreement that prevented one member promotion promoting against the other promotion. This gentlemans agreement kept the surging GCW promotion away from the southern flank of Gulas-Welch territory but barely.
On February 20, Bobby Shane was killed in a plane crash in Florida. The crash ended the in-ring career of Buddy Colt (who would return to Florida rings later as a manager, referee and announcer) and interrupted the careers of Playboy Gary Hart and Iron Mike McCord. Hart would recover and manage such stars as The Spoiler, The Great Kabuki, Maniac Mark Lewin and others and work big money territories such as Georgia, Mid-Atlantic and Texas. McCord would also recover and compete for awhile before disappearing and reappearing as Austin Idol. McCord, who had wrestled early in his career in the Gulas-Welch territory, would return to those stomping grounds in 1979 to stir things up and would return seemingly every year thereafter to wrestle for awhile in the territory. Shane had worked some in the territory in the 1960s but really became a star by working territories such as Georgia, Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Pacific Northwest and Australia. Shane, once a clean-cut fan favorite, had abandoned that gimmick to become the "King of Wrestling." During his stints in Atlanta Shane came across a young talent named Jerry Lawler. Shane and Lawler had even teamed a few times in Georgia. Lawler credits Shane with giving him a crown, part of the long-running King gimmick Lawler has used for years. Still it seems apparent that Shane had some influence, if only indirectly, on the Gulas-Welch territory by his brief association with the man who would become famous being billed as the "King of Wrestling" for years to come, Jerry Lawler.
"A Superstar is Born"
Who thought in February 1975 when the team of George Barnes and Bill Dundee debuted in the area how the fortunes of the company in years to come would be affected? The Gulas territory had long thrived on foreign heels, usually Japanese and German heels. Johnny Gray, an Australian, had debuted in 1974, as a heel, but had only achieved limited success. Barnes and Dundee would become the leading team in the area for a few months eclipsing any success Gray had achieved.
Both Dundee and Barnes were small in stature. Size, generally, was not a major factor in the Gulas territory. If it had been, Barnes and Dundee would have never succeeded here. One thing not small about the duo were their mouths. The pair was loud, arrogant and cocky. When they talked they spoke with a strange accent, a sure fire heat generator in the 1970s in the South.
Barnes and Dundee quickly won the Southern tag titles from Tojo Yamamoto and Eddie Marlin. They then moved into a feud with Robert Fuller who used an assortment of partners to combat the wily duo most notably his brother Ron, his father, Buddy and his cousin, Jimmy Golden. A few matches even saw the three Fullers battle Barnes, Dundee and fellow Australian Johnny Gray.
The territory, still mostly a tag team territory, allowed very few teams to remain champions for very long. As May ended, Tojo Yamamoto and Jimmy Golden ended the title reign of Barnes and Dundee and after a few weeks of rematches Barnes left the area. Dundee, however, remained.
The summer saw Dundee hop in the middle of things as he teamed with Chris Colt and Mike Boyette to battle area legends Jackie, Roughhouse and Don Fargo in a series of wild matches. The Fargos would come out on top in the battles but Dundee was proving to be a talent to hang on to. Earlier in the year he had waged war with Tojo Yamamoto and then by summer he had battled with Jackie Fargo. This left only one area headliner he had yet to meet, Jerry Lawler. His chance would come before the year would end.
Dundee, before battling Lawler, would go through a transformation. Dundee would become a fan favorite.
On Memphis TV the Interns and manager Dr. Ken Ramey beat up Eddie Marlin. Dundee made the save and ended up beaten down for his trouble. The Interns and Ramey, heels in the area off and on for most of the decade at this point, drew no sympathy from the fans, so Dundee, the fan favorite, was born. After a few weeks of matches with Marlin against the Interns, Dundee was about to become one half of a legendary long-running feud when he faced off against Jerry Lawler.
The Southern title had been held up and a tournament was held in Memphis on December 1st. In round one, Lawler got past former champion Tommy Gilbert while Dundee downed another former champion, the rugged Don Greene. This set up Lawler vs. Dundee as the tournament final. The match ended in a no contest. Lawler ended up winning the belt in a few weeks in another tournament and the two squared off in a few matches around the area. It was only the beginning of a feud that would go on for years to come.
April-June 1975 in Review
Roy Welchs son, Edward returned to the ring for some matches in April. Edward, better known as Buddy Fuller, returned to team with sons Ron and Robert Fuller against George Barnes, Bill Dundee and Johnny Gray. Robert, who had been active in Georgia in 1974, returned to a more active schedule in the territory in the spring often teaming with cousin, Jimmy Golden.
Ron remained Southern champion and fought off challenges from Professor Dale Lewis, George Barnes, Bill Dundee, Ricky Gibson, Ron Wright, and Crazy Luke Graham among others. Ron would also battle NWA champion Jack Brisco on some area cards in this time frame. Fullers reign would end on June 9th when he dropped the title to The Mongolian Stomper managed by Bearcat Wright.
The Mongolian Stomper and manager Bearcat Wright jumped into the Southern title fray by defending the title against ex-champion Ron Fuller, Robert Fuller, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Lawler.
Rocket Monroe and Randy Tyler began a feud with the interesting combination of Jerry Jarrett and George Gulas. The Jarrett and Gulas team would prove interesting within the next few years as these two would become the focal point of where this territory was headed. Monroe and Tyler would then segue into a feud with the most unlikely combination the area could imagine, Jackie Fargo and Crazy Luke Graham. Monroe and Tyler would begin defending the US tag titles in May but would lose them to the team of Jackie Fargo and George Gulas. The US tag titles were then passed to Sam Basss new combination of Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller. The US tag titles had been defended in the region in the 1960s with teams such as Les Thatcher and Bearcat Brown, The Spoilers, The Mighty Yankees and Big Bad John and Pepe Lopez holding the titles. The titles would remain active in the area for about another year.
George Barnes and Bill Dundee not only defended the Southern tag titles against various combinations of the Fullers, Buddy, Ron and Robert, but also against Tojo Yamamoto and Jerry Jarrett. Barnes and Dundee would eventually lose the titles to Tojo Yamamoto and Jimmy Golden who in turn lost the titles to Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller. Yamamoto would then begin teaming with up and coming talent Tommy Rich, billed as Yamamotos protégé, much the same way Jerry Jarrett had been billed early in his ring career. The Southern tag titles wound up in the possession of Jackie Fargo and Mr. Wrestling by the end of June.
Changes were afoot in the territory as the summer began. George Barnes would leave the area but his partner Bill Dundee would stay. Norvell Austin returned and new talent came in such as The Outlaws: Cowboy Parker and Ken Dillenger, David Shultz, Mr. Suzuki, Chris Colt and Mike Boyette, among others. Georgia stars Abdullah the Butcher and Rocky Johnson made appearances in some cities in the territory.
"Outer Mongolias Favorite Son"
Billed from Outer Mongolia, the Mongolian Stomper debuted in the area in the summer of 1975. In most cities on his initial appearances in the territory he wrestled and defeated two opponents. Within a few weeks, the Stomper had garnered the areas richest prize, the Southern title from Ron Fuller.
The Mongolian Stomper had worked a number of territories through the years. Long time fans in Calgary Canada recall his long run there. He also made plenty of noise in the Central States area for a number of years. Prior to coming to Tennessee the Stomper had had a big run in Florida.
The Stomper did not talk on interviews. This meant he needed a manager to be his mouthpiece. For much of his stay in the area, longtime mat star Bearcat Wright was given that chore. The Stomper apparently didnt like others to talk either as he covered his ears when the crowd become noisy. Wright explained that noise hurt the Stompers sensitive ears. Naturally, this made the audiences cheer louder and louder against the giant bald-headed monster.
The Stompers stay in the area was significant. His Southern title reign came on the heels of the reign of Ron Fuller. Fuller, six feet nine inches tall and weighing 270 pounds, was really the first man to hold that title that wasnt a junior heavyweight. Fuller, although he had appeared and headlined cards in Georgia, Florida and even appeared on the prestigious NWA showcase cards in St. Louis for promoter Sam Muchnick, was considered "local" by many fans around the country. Fuller had cut his teeth on the business in this area. The Stomper had also wrestled in other places but he had no connections to the area. So when Gulas was able to bring him in and then to have him win the Southern title it helped make the title more valuable and gave the territory a proven headliner who wasnt local or homegrown. This shouldnt diminish Fullers lengthy title reign either though. The long title reign gave value to the title and Fuller used himself as champion to not only support the Gulas-Welch cities but to help set up his own Knoxville territory to reach a level it hadnt seen in a few years.
The Stomper turned away challenges from Ron and Robert Fuller, Jackie Fargo, The Magnificent Zulu, Jerry Lawler, Luke Graham and his eventual successor to the title, Bob Armstrong. Stomper feuded with Armstrong for a good deal of the summer and into the fall. Stomper used former WWWF champion Ivan Koloff as partner in this battle against Armstrong and Robert Fuller.
In the fall, Bearcat Wright left the area and Al Greene, longtime area star, replaced Wright as Stompers manager. Not much later, the Stomper lost several loser-leaves-town matches to Bob Armstrong and one or two to Jerry Lawler that sealed his departure from the area.
The Stomper would venture in and out of the territory over the next few years. His next stop would be a long, successful run for Ron Fullers Knoxville group where he became an area legend. The Stompers success was something all the folks back in Outer Mongolia could find pride in knowing. But of course this is professional wrestling where all you see and hear isnt always the way it really is. The Mongolian Stomper, you see, was in reality a Canadian named Archie Gouldie.
July-September 1975 in Review
The summer kicked off with a reuniting of the Fabulous Fargos. Jackie enlisted the aid of brothers Don and Roughhouse against various combinations of Bill Dundee, Chris Colt, Mike Boyette and Bill Colt. While together, the Fargos also battled Al Greene and The Outlaws: Cowboy Parker and Ken Dillenger. Greene began managing this tag team.
Jackie held the Southern tag titles with Mr. Wrestling for a few weeks before they went back to former champions Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller with manager Sam Bass.
The Mr. Wrestling gimmick had been around for a number of years and had been made famous especially in Florida and Georgia by Tim Woods. After the promotional war broke out in Georgia in late 1972 and early 1973 a new masked man named Mr. Wrestling II debuted and would become a state legend. II was longtime star Johnny Walker, who left the Gulas-Welch territory in early 1973 to begin his work as II in Georgia. The Mr. Wrestling in the territory in 1975 though was neither Woods or Walker but long time area star and one-time Fargo rival Don Greene. Fargo and Greene would regain the titles after Greene was unmasked but would then lose the titles in September to Dr. Ken Rameys Interns.
In September Fargo found himself paired with veteran Pepper Gomez. Gomez, billed as having an iron-like stomach, came into the area and challenged folks to hit him in the stomach. He even challenged folks to jump off a ladder onto his stomach while he laid in the ring. Dr. Ken Rameys Interns accepted the offer. Their attempts did not faze Gomez in the least. Angered at being shown up by the newcomer Gomez, the Interns asked for one last chance at Gomezs stomach. One of the Interns climbed the ladder and jumped off onto the prone Gomez, but instead of landing on his stomach the Intern landed on Gomezs throat. The trio then proceeded to destroy Gomez. This angle, new to Gulas fans, was hardly original. Gomez had used his iron-stomach gimmick, complete with ladder, in other territories over the years, most notably in the San Francisco area in 1962 where the angle set up that areas hottest feud ever with Ray Stevens.
Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey formed a team in the summer of 1975. Hickerson had been part of a successful team with Al Greene. Condrey had had limited success as a babyface teaming with Jimmy Golden. Together, this combination would become one of Gulas best tag teams ever.
The Magnificent Zulu would capture the Mid-America title during the summer. He would only hold it briefly before losing it to former NWA champion Harley Race on September 9th in Memphis.
Nick Gulas son, George, who had debuted in 1974 continued to get a healthy push. George, who had mainly appeared in tag matches the previous year, found himself working his first major solo program against Mr. Suzuki. Memorable in this feud were a few matches where the loser of the match had to throw money to the crowd. Suzuki won that round but lost the next round which found the loser of the match losing his hair. The feud even got some play in some national magazines, a rarity for the area, apparently an attempt to get George over as an emerging mat star.
The Knoxville office still used some Gulas-Welch talent but increasingly other stars appeared in Knoxville that didnt appear elsewhere in the region such as The Masked Assassin II, Tommy Seigler and others. Ron and Don Wright, longtime Knoxville mainstays, made some appearances throughout the territory for Gulas.
The summer also saw appearances by such stars as Sputnik Monroe, NWA Junior Heavyweight champion Hiro Matsuda, Rip Hawk and a youngster who had debuted in 1974 as Wayne Petty.
September also saw the NWA presidency change hands to Texas promoter Jack Adkisson, a/k/a Fritz Von Erich.
"The Rich Get Richer"
1974 had seen the debut of Hendersonville, Tennessees Tommy Rich on TV and on some house shows. While Rich had wrestled some in 1974 he made very little impact then. 1975 would be a much different year for the young blond.
Rich had several things going for him working for Gulas. He had the look of a babyface or good guy. Clean cut with white blonde hair he instantly became a favorite of the female fans. He was also a local boy so fans took a liking to one of their own. Combine these things with some charisma and some potential and Tommy Rich began coming into his own.
As Gulas often did when he saw a potential star in the making, he was quick to pair him with an established veteran in a tag team. This was done so the young star could gain experience and knowledge at the feet of a veteran. Any shortcomings the young star had could be covered up more easily in a tag match than in a singles match. Another advantage was the star rub the young star received by appearing with the older star. Gulas had done this with two stars in particular over the years, Jerry Jarrett and his own son, George Gulas. He paired Jarrett with Tojo Yamamoto and Jackie Fargo and George with Dennis Hall and Fargo and later, Yamamoto.
Gulas had another advantage in developing young talent such as Rich. His territory was so big he could always use another piece of talent. A wrestler could work one end of the territory for awhile and then work the other end without losing too much steam with the fans. If someone was willing to learn the ropes as a professional wrestler then Gulas probably had a place for him.
Gulas paired Rich with Yamamoto and the two teamed much of 1975.
The duo won the US tag titles in the summer from the team of Karl Von Stieger and Otto Von Heller. Information is unclear but it seems likely that Yamamoto and Rich lost the US titles to Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey during the fall of 1975.
Richs first full year in the business had been good. His visibility in the area had been heightened with his tag team with area superstar Tojo Yamamoto which included a tag title run. He had stepped in the ring with some of the areas top talent and had progressed nicely. His good looks and charisma had helped make him a favorite of the fans. Was Rich ready to step into a top slot in the territory? 1976 would provide him such an opportunity. Richs young career was about to be burning like a wildfire out of control.
October-December 1975 in Review
Bob Armstrong held onto the Southern title for most of the last few months of the year. He got past challenges from former champion The Mongolian Stomper and then Mid-America champion Harley Race in a title vs. title match. Armstrong even won a few loser-leaves-town matches around the circuit against The Mongolian Stomper. The man who would cause some trouble for Armstrong toward the end of the year, Jerry Lawler, would also win some loser-leaves-town matches against the Stomper.
Things started off better for Armstrong and Lawler as the two teamed to battle Dr. Ken Ramey and The Interns. Then things fell apart as Lawler turned on Armstrong. Lawler, who had broken away from manager Sam Bass a year earlier joined forces again with Bass. The Southern title wound up being held up.
A tournament was ordered for the Southern title on December 1st in Memphis that saw an inconclusive ending. Two weeks later, Lawler would get a DQ win against Dick the Bruiser to advance to another tournament final against ex-champion Ron Fuller, who had a DQ tournament win over Bob Roop. Lawler would then defeat Fuller to become Southern champion again.
Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey began running roughshod over area tag teams. A heel referee didnt hurt their cause. Paul Maxwell was a referee for Gulas who apparently wasnt on the up and up since he helped Hickerson and Condrey win a few matches. Finally, Jackie Fargo and Jerry Jarrett had enough and teamed with Jerry Lawler to square off with Hickerson, Condrey and Maxwell. Hickerson and Condrey mainly feuded with Jackie Fargo who teamed with Jarrett, Andre the Giant and Roughhouse Fargo. Jackie Fargo and Don Carson also downed Hickerson and Condrey for a short run as US tag champions. Theres also some evidence that suggests Eddie Marlin and Tommy Gilbert held the US tag titles briefly late in the year as well.
The Interns ran into trouble in Memphis on December 21st as they lost the Southern tag belts to Bearcat Brown and Tommy Gilbert. Brown and Gilbert had held the titles before but with other partners. Brown had teamed to hold the titles with Len Rossi and Johnny Walker while Gilbert had held the title with Eddie Marlin and Ricky Gibson.
New or returning to the area at this time were: Don and Al Greene (as a team), Bill Ash, The Sheik, Professor Toru Tanaka, Buddy Diamond, Don Anderson, Gentle Ben the Wrestling Bear and two outstanding amateur wrestlers from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Pez Whatley and George Weingeroff, son of long time area star Saul Weingeroff. Also debuting as a referee for some events in the territory was Butch Thornton, son of Chattanooga TV announcer and co-promoter, Harry Thornton.
One last significant event occurred outside the territory before the year ended. On December 10 NWA champion Jack Brisco lost the title to Terry Funk in Miami, FL.
"Behind the Mask"
Jerry Lawler came into his own as a singles star in 1974. A number of folks began to notice Lawlers quick wit on interviews and ability in the ring. Lawler began accepting appearances outside the Tennessee home base, most notably in Georgia.
The Georgia territory had been a busy one in the early 1970s due to the fallout of the partnership revolving around Ray Gunkel and Edward Welch. This situation is detailed in the overview article. It lead to a promotional war in Georgia. It was during the years of the promotional war in Georgia that some stars from the Gulas-Welch territory made their way to Georgia. Lawler was one of those stars.
By 1975, the NWA Georgia office had won the promotional war over All-South. Lawler, who first appeared in Atlanta in 1974, had worked his way to mid-card on the Georgia shows and sometimes onto the semi-final main event as a heel. Lawler, despite his appearances in Georgia, maintained a schedule for Gulas-Welch. Lawler though found no success in loosening Ron Fullers stranglehold on the Southern title. This found Lawler working a good number of dates in 1975 in Georgia. He battled such opponents as Don Muraco, Jerry Brisco, Rocky Johnson, Bob Armstrong, Robert Fuller, Larry Zbyszko, Bob Backlund and others while teaming with Don Greene, The Assassin II, Bob Orton, Jr. and others.
As the summer wound down it appeared Lawlers run in Georgia was over. He would not automatically return to Tennessee though.
Lawlers one-time tag partner, Don Greene had gone to work the Florida territory with Curtis Smith. Together the pair donned masks and were called The Superstars. (Please note: this is altogether a different team that would appear for Gulas in 1976.) Smith was a ring veteran who wore a mask virtually all his career, most notably as one of J.C. Dykes Infernos. Greene also had donned a mask from time to time. After a few weeks, Smith left the team leaving Greene without a partner. The team did not end there though. Greene replaced Smith with another masked Superstar. Under the mask then was Jerry Lawler.
The Superstars would last only a few months in Florida. Sam Bass would even manage them during their Florida stay. The team though rarely made it past mid-card status there. Some nights, Lawler would appear under the mask and then later on the card as himself without the mask.
1975 also saw Lawler without a mask and without much of anything. Lawler posed nude for one of the newsstand wrestling magazines (one of the Victory Sports publications or Apter mags, as more commonly known by longtime fans), with his trusty crown strategically placed to make the photo suitable for distribution. The Apter magazines had given some coverage to Lawlers Memphis antics prior to his infamous photo shoot but coverage by most newsstand magazines was uncommon for the area. (Wrestling Revue and Wrestling News did give some good coverage, without the sensationalism of the Apter mags, to the area over the years.)
As busy as all this left Lawler, Tennessee was calling. He returned to the Gulas-Welch territory full-time in the late fall. He quickly got back into the middle of things by winning a loser leaves town match against The Mongolian Stomper in Memphis. He then teamed with Bob Armstrong against Dr. Ken Rameys Interns. Just as quick, Lawler turned on Armstrong reverting back to his evil ways and even added Sam Bass as his manager again.
1975 came to a close with Jerry Lawler holding the Southern title with manager Sam Bass as his manager. Lawler was back in his stomping grounds with a smirk on his face, a wisecrack on his lips and trouble on his mind. Would 1976 be the year Lawler would come to rule Tennessee wrestling?
1975 was a big year for the territory. Jerry Lawler had spent a good deal of time away from the territory but by years end he had returned full time to the area, turned heel, reunited with manager Sam Bass and was terrorizing the region as the areas lead heel. Jackie Fargo remained viable and in the thick of things. The territory, long known as a tag team territory, saw the debut of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey, who had within a few months become a major force. An unlikely hero for the territory, Australias Bill Dundee, had debuted as part of a heel team with George Barnes but by years end had turned into a fan favorite. Longtime area star Tojo Yamamoto had spent a good part of the year teaming with youngster Tommy Rich, who showed signs of great potential. The promoters son, George Gulas, continued to get a sizable push over the year including his first major singles feud against Mr. Suzuki and even teamed some with Jerry Jarrett. Things had changed some though. The Knoxville office, owned by Ronald Welch, grandson of Gulas partner, Roy Welch, had long shared talent with the Gulas-Welch office. This continued but as the year wore on, it occurred less frequently as the Knoxville office began to become more and more successful and needed the talent swap less and less.
1976, Americas 200th birthday year, was about to begin. In
"lieu" of actual fireworks in the bicentennial year Gulas would face other
fireworks, competition from a former employee. "The Bicentennial Kings" would
reign over the tag team scene all year long. A "Nature Boy" would have a big run
in the area in 1976. By "George", two "Juniors" would mix it up in the
upcoming year and in so doing may have cemented the fate of the Gulas-Welch-Jarrett
partnership. And a ride from Memphis to Nashville would turn deadly for three stars on a
July night and the "dominos" from that night would tumble and change several
careers and lives forever.
By Tim S. Dills
The United States of America turned 200 years young during the summer of 1976. Professional wrestling continued to draw good crowds in the cities promoted by Nick Gulas and Roy Welch. Welch, though, was in poor health. Welch had taken Jerry Jarrett, son of longtime Gulas employee Christine Jarrett, under his wing several years earlier and by 1976, Jarrett was not only a major in-ring performer in the area but had also acquired power and respect behind the scenes by running the western end of the territory. Meantime, the in-ring action remained wild and woolly.
The Bicentennial Kings
The 1970s were full of many great tag teams. A short list of such teams would include Ray Stevens and Nick Bockwinkel, Ole and Gene Anderson, Black Gordman and The Great Goliath, Ric Flair and Greg Valentine, Jack Brisco and Jerry Brisco and Dory Funk, Jr. and Terry Funk. More than likely that short list would not include the tag team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey. Some who remember them though say they belong on such a list.
Not many fans outside the Gulas territory ever had the chance to see the combination of Hickerson and Condrey. In a sense it poses a question similar to that age-old question: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Since the team of Hickerson and Condrey never appeared in a major TV market (such as New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles) as a team does that mean they werent a good team? The Tennessee territory received very little press in the newsstand magazines during the time period, especially in the glossy Apter magazines. Coverage in the Apter magazines often meant that whoever, or whatever territory the Apter magazines were featuring became stars in the business (or became bigger stars) since these magazines were available to more fans coast to coast. Hickerson and Condrey rarely appeared in these magazines so their reputation as a team is remembered by those who were fortunate enough to see them when they teamed in the territory.
Hickerson had made a name for himself in a tag team with Al Greene, and both men complimented each other... they were both big men, and they both hammered away at their opposition, with Hickerson being a little younger, and quicker. Actually for his size, Hickerson was a very quick man. He was from just outside Jackson, Tennessee, and was able to use his hometown to his advantage. Hickerson came across to fans as that bully that inhabited many of the towns from which Gulas drew fans. He talked like they talked. He sounded like they sounded. And when it came time to step into the ring, he was believable enough to come across as being able to back up his boasts.
Condrey had hit the area as a babyface the year before but had made very little impact. He had never reached past mid-card status in the area since his debut. That changed when he was paired with Hickerson and automatically became a heel. Condrey had good size, weighing in the 235-pound range. He also had pretty good ability, having learned the basics of the business in his native North Carolina under the tutelage of Nelson Royal.
Since 1976 was the bicentennial year in the States, Hickerson and Condrey billed themselves as the Bicentennial Kings. They were like kings during the year as they held the areas three major tag titles (Southern tag, Mid-America tag and U.S. tag titles) and mainly feuded with area superstar Jackie Fargo. The fans did not treat them like kings though. They often chimed in with their comments, which were usually influenced by their opponents. One frequent rival, Tojo Yamamoto, often called Hickerson a "septic tank" and then called Condrey a "Pekinese dog".
Hickersons size and speed coupled with Condreys solid mat ability made them a dynamic duo. Add to this Hickersons microphone talents, which riled the fans, and the team was doubly good. Perhaps the best test of their ability as a team during the year came when Jackie Fargo was out for a brief time. In Jackies absence, Hickerson and Condrey had to battle the young team of Randy Fargo and Don Kernodle. Sometimes the measure of a good professional wrestler (or in this case, a good team) is their ability to make the opposition look good. Hickerson and Condrey, still a fairly young team, were able to make Randy Fargo and Don Kernodle, both relatively new to the business, look great, getting that team over while in the process getting themselves over.
Hickerson and Condrey worked the area through 1977. In 1978, they worked most of the year in the Knoxville territory where they were managed by Ron Wright. Injuries caught up with Hickerson in 1979 and forced him out of action for awhile bringing an end to this team. 1976, though, was the year this combination was at the top of their game. Hickerson and Condrey arguably were the greatest tag team never seen by many fans.
Jerry Lawler began the year as Southern champion but he also was embroiled in a feud with manager Sam Bass against Bob Armstrong and Bill Dundee. The feud would eventually also include Professor Toru Tanaka (on Lawlers side) and Tojo Yamamoto (on Dundees side). Lawler, wrestling almost exclusively on the western end of the territory, soon got into a feud against the up and coming star Tommy Rich. The feud with Lawler propelled Rich into greater prominence in the area. Lawler also paired up on occasion with Plowboy Frazier, who had appeared off and on in the area for years. Frazier initially appeared to assist Lawler and while Lawler lavished him with some gifts he also made fun of the big guy. Frazier eventually caught on and turned on Lawler and Bass.
Jackie Fargo held the Mid-America title early in the year but he spent most of his time facing the team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey on the eastern end of the territory. Fargo would call upon brother Roughhouse to help battle Hickerson and Condrey. Fargo would wind up injured at the hands of Hickerson and Condrey so the gauntlet was picked up by Fargos nephew (billed a few times as his cousin) Randy. Randy would team with Don Kernodle to defend Jackies honor. Hickerson and Condrey would also have a series of matches against fellow bad guys The Bounty Hunters (David and Jerry Novak).
The Mid-America title would vanish from the area until around mid-year. Research shows veteran Dick Steinborn defending the title in the Gulf Coast area and in the spring for Ron Fullers Southeastern territory in Knoxville. How Steinborn gained the title hasnt yet been determined by research, although he did make a few appearances for Gulas during the year.
Appearing in the area during the first part of the year included such stars as: U.S tag champions The Islanders (later known as Afa and Sika: The Wild Samoans) with manager Saul Weingeroff, Pistol Pez Whatley, Don and Al Greene, The Masked Interns with manager Dr. Ken Ramey who feuded over the Southern tag titles with Tommy Gilbert and Bearcat Brown, Jackie and Roy Lee Welch and their father, Lester Welch, Mike Jackson (used a good deal in his home state of Alabama), Luke Fields, Joe Sky Turner, Bill Bowman, Big Bad John, George Gulas and others.
During the first part of the year, Gulas faced a promotional challenge in the eastern end of the territory. A group called the Universal Wrestling Association formed and began running shows in Nashville and later in Chattanooga. Without running their first card the group had instant credibility in the area. Working with the group was a man who had appeared for Gulas within the past year, Lou Thesz.
"And in This Corner Lou Thesz"
Nick Gulas had faced promotional opposition in years before 1976. This time though, the opponent could claim to be a former six-time world champion, Lou Thesz. Thesz had worked for Gulas quite a bit in the years prior to running against Gulas. He and his backers though seemed to believe Gulas was vulnerable to competition. They first targeted Nashville and later Chattanooga as two cities they would run cards in against Gulas.
Thesz assembled a varied crew to work what became known as the Universal Wrestling Association. He drew from some who had worked the Gulas territory for years including Gentleman Saul Weingeroff, Dr. Ken Ramey and the Interns, Lorenzo Parente and Frank Morrell (who worked under a mask as the Spoiler). He threw in some young talent, some of which had also worked for Gulas including Pez Whatley, Afa and Sika: The Islanders, Tommy Seigler (who had just worked the Knoxville territory for Ron Fuller) and others. He also mixed in some fairly established talent from outside the area including Eric the Red, Luis Martinez, Al Costello and others. Later in the year, Theszs group was able to also persuade Don Greene and Steve Kovacs, both longtime Gulas mainstays, to work for them.
The group initially made Pez Whatley their champion. Whatley, a Chattanooga native and standout amateur wrestler, was still young in his pro career at this point in time. Later, Cowboy Ray Parker was the champion. Parker had teamed in 1975 for Gulas with Ken Dillenger to form a team billed as the Outlaws. The UWA, which did have their own TV show, ended up providing little in the way of sustained competition to Gulas.
1976 found the fireworks between Gulas and Thesz and their promotional war over by the end of the summer. Gulas and Thesz would work together in the future and also see things differently in the future. Little is left behind by Theszs attempt to run opposition against Gulas in 1976. It did though give an underage wrestler a chance to test his wares. A fifteen-year-old appeared in the UWA under a mask (as Mr. Wrestling) to gain some in-ring experience. That fifteen-year-old would grow up to become wrestling superstar Terry Gordy.
Despite challenges from Tommy Rich, Jerry Lawler held onto the Southern title. Lawler really began cementing his interview skills during this time period by often badgering announcer Lance Russell. (Lawler often referred to Russell as "Old Banana Nose" and made fun of Russells "Baxter suits".) Lawler also battled former football player turned wrestler Ron Mikoloczyk. By the summer, Lawler had renewed his feud against Jackie Fargo.
Hickerson and Condrey continued their feud against Randy Fargo and Don Kernodle but Jackie returned during this time frame. Jackie paired with Jerry Jarrett and later teamed with Big Bad John against the duo of Hickerson and Condrey. Hickerson and Condrey billed themselves as The Bicentennial Kings while John billed himself as The Bicentennial Baby.
"Esquire" J.C. Dykes returned to the area. In the 1960s, Dykes had worked the area as a referee for Gulas. Later, he left the area and worked as a manager to the Infernos becoming successful in Georgia and the Carolinas and later elsewhere. Dykes and the Infernos rarely worked the Gulas territory during their successful run. By 1976, the Infernos were through, so Dykes returned to the area and brought with him a brand new tag team called The Dominoes. This was a different team than any other that had appeared here before. The masked team wore black and white ring outfits and to complete that idea one member was Caucasian and the other African-American. This team quickly made waves in the area by winning the Southeastern tag titles (not the Southeastern titles recognized in Knoxville but a briefly recognized title by Gulas). They battled various combinations of Charlie Cook, Joey Rossi and Cowboy Frankie Laine in many matches in the area. Dykes stirred even more controversy by throwing fire at some opponents.
Appearing in the area during this time were such stars as Ernie Ladd, Haystack Calhoun, Danny Miller, Gene Lewis, Rocket Monroe, Southern tag champions Don Greene & the Masked Scorpion (Don Bass), Duke Miller, David Shultz and Bill Ash, Roger Kirby and others. The son of Chattanooga announcer and co-promoter Harry Thornton, Butch Thornton, debuted in the ring in April and would work low on the cards much of the year. Nick Gulas son George was still in the area and mainly working tag matches with Dennis Hall.
One Long Night in July
Professional wrestlers take a lot of risks. There are those who laugh at their business and wish it away by saying its nothing more than staged theatrics. They know how to fall. They know how to pull their punches. Its all fake they claim. And maybe if thats all that is observed then that claim could hold some credence. However, theres more to the business of professional wrestling than knowing how to sell a punch or knowing how to fall. Fake is not a word to use when describing the events of July 26, 1976. There was nothing fake about it then or now, years removed from that day.
July 26, 1976 was a Monday night. The wrestlers came to Memphis for the weekly stop there. After the show, many of them made their way via automobile to Nashville. Nashville was home to a number of the wrestlers in the territory because the booking office was there and also because of its relative central location in the territory.
Sam Bass, Frank Hester and Pepe Lopez left Memphis together that night. About an hour west of Nashville, near the town of Dickson, Tennessee, Bass, Hester and Lopez topped a small hill and crashed into a car. The car Bass, Hester and Lopez hit had already hit a bridge and stopped, without any lights on, in the middle of the interstate. The car carrying Bass, Hester and Lopez was then hit by a big truck. Their car then caught on fire. Bass, Hester and Lopez were all killed.
Bass was the manager of the areas leading heel at the time, Jerry Lawler. Hester and Lopez (whose real name was Reuben Rodriquez) were making a name for themselves in the area as the Masked Dominoes (Lopez was actually the third Domino as he replaced Cliff Lilly who left the promotion after a few weeks into the run for Gulas). J.C. Dykes was the manager of the Dominoes. As the crew prepared to leave the Memphis Mid-South Coliseum earlier that night, Dykes decided to ride with former wrestler and Gulas employee Pat Malone. Dykes and Malone came upon the accident scene and discovered that their friends had died in the crash. Yeah, but professional wrestling is still fake.
That is an easy answer for those who refuse to look beyond the surface. Theres nothing fake about what happened or the aftermath of that long July night. Wives had lost husbands. Children had lost fathers. Friends had lost friends. No doubt fellow wrestlers stopped to contemplate their own mortality because it could have just as easily been them in that car that night. Nick Gulas had lost three stars. Jerry Lawler lost his manager. J.C. Dykes lost his team. Dykes also had to live with the scenes of the accident in his mind.
Dykes turned to alcohol but things didnt seem to turn around for him. Finally a few months later, Dykes, at the urging of his wife, turned to God to help him deal with the demons he battled. He left the business of professional wrestling and entered into a life away from the world he had known most of his life, settling in Cleveland, Tennessee, just outside Chattanooga. He died on November 20, 1993 at the age of 67.
Professional wrestlers take a lot of risks. Sure, they may know how to fall but that doesnt mean they dont acquire back problems, knee problems and leg problems from the wear and tear of knowing how to fall. Sure, they may know how to pull a punch but that doesnt mean one doesnt get pulled now and then.
Still, some say its fake.
They take other risks. They often fight their way through riot-like crowds chomping at the bit to get their hands on them and sometimes they make it through fine while other times they end up with battle scars. They often step in the ring with someone who is not trained properly or someone who is performing under the influence of some intoxicating substance and sometimes they make it through fine while other times they end up injured for a time. They always have to travel to get from one show to the next and sometimes they arrive safely and other times they do not.
Despite the risks involved some still laugh at the business of professional wrestling. However, those same people, will marvel at their favorite TV comedy even though the characters and situations involved are, well, "fake". They watch movies with incredible stunts and never complain about it looking staged even though it is carefully choreographed and often a super-enlarged version of the concept of good versus evil that has sustained professional wrestling for decades. Yet these same people choose to never explore professional wrestling because of those very reasons they refuse to apply to other entertainment. They never come to understand that although there are aspects of professional wrestling which are fake (predetermined is a much more accurate term) the participants and some of the aspects of the business are very real.
On one long night in July, 1976, three men died who just happened to be professional wrestlers. That is as real as real can get on any level.
The events of July 26 no doubt stayed with many in the area for a long time. It came on the heels of the death by auto accident in 1975 of former area manager Sir Clements, who passed away while working in the Ohio-Michigan area. In 1972, the Knoxville territory lost area legend Whitey Caldwell to an auto accident. Also in 1972, Gulas star Len Rossis career was cut short due to injuries from an auto accident. And now in 1976, Gulas had lost three stars to another auto accident.
The show, as it always seems to do, went on.
Gorgeous George, Jr., billed as son of the legendary 1950s star Gorgeous George, relieved Jerry Lawler of the Southern title. George and Lawler battled off and on the rest of the year over the title. On the eastern end George often teamed with George Gulas. Lawler, meantime, found an instant nemesis in Rocky Johnson.
Longtime area favorite Tommy Gilbert turned heel and wound up in a brutal feud with Cowboy Frankie Laine. This feud introduced the Coal Miners Glove match to the area.
Big Bad John who had been a fan favorite, turned heel. Injuries prevented him appearing too often in the ring so he began managing the newly arrived tag team of The Masked Superstars (Dick Dunn and Tarzan Baxter), who had worked the Knoxville territory for Ron Fuller.
Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey swapped the Southern tag titles with Bill Dundee and Tommy Rich during the summer, mainly on the western end of the territory. On the eastern end their role of leading tag team was taken by the upstart duo of David Shultz and Bill Ash. For some matches Shultz and Ash were joined by Butch Malone, who feuded briefly with Tommy Rich.
The Mid-America title picture got busy in the summer. Roger Kirby held the title and often battled Gorgeous George, Jr. and the returning Robert Fuller and Bob Armstrong for the title. Armstrong took the title from Kirby and their feud stretched into the fall with Armstrong losing the title for a week to Big Bad John.
Others in the area at this time included NWA champion Terry Funk, former NWA champion Jack Brisco, who defeated Lawler for the Southern title for a few weeks before losing it back to Lawler, Abdullah the Butcher, Dennis Hall, who turned heel on Buddy Diamond, Norvell Austin who teamed with Butch Malone, Rip Smith, Bearcat Brown, Professor Toru Tanaka, Jimmy Golden and others.
Ron Fuller, who continued to run the Knoxville territory, also made some appearances for Gulas. The Knoxville office was running a much more regular weekly schedule than ever before and business there was good. They were able to attract wrestlers to work that territory regularly making the long-running talent deal with Gulas, for all purposes, useless.
The Nature Boy
When professional wrestling fans mention the nickname "The Nature Boy" two names, maybe three, come to mind, Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair and Buddy Landel. Quite a select group of company to keep for anyone. In the 1970s though there was another Nature Boy and 1976 found him working for Nick Gulas.
Roger Kirby burst onto the scene during the year and become a force in the area. Kirby had come to the area a veteran of the territories. He had worked most of the NWA territories in the 1960s and 1970s, beginning his career as Wild Bill Baker (Kirby had actually worked some for Gulas under the Bill Baker name in the 1960s). He had made a reputation for himself in the Pacific Northwest (as Rip Kirby), the Central States area, Florida, Georgia, the Gulf Coast area (where he worked with Gulas veterans Dennis Hall and Les Thatcher billed as cousins), the Amarillo territory and countless other places.
He was often part of a successful tag team in many of these areas and held regional tag titles with partners such as James J. Dillion (Florida tag titles), Harley Race (Florida tag titles and Central States tag titles), Lord Alfred Hayes (Central States tag titles) and Buddy Colt (Georgia tag titles).
Kirby also held one of the more prestigious titles in the business at one time. On May 20, 1971 Kirby defeated NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion Danny Hodge for the title in New Orleans. Kirby held the title for around four months before losing the title to Ramon Torres. By choosing Kirby to hold this title meant he was considered to be a talent who was thought of fairly highly since Leroy McGuirk, who booked the title matches, and Hodge, himself, took pride in having only good workers hold that particular title.
Kirbys work for Gulas included a few runs as Mid-America champion. He was managed by Bearcat Wright during much of his 1976 run in the area. He feuded with Gorgeous George, Jr., Bob Armstrong, Robert Fuller and eventually Tommy Rich. Kirbys stay in the area also brought some needed luster to the Mid-America title. The title, ironically first defended in the area by Nature Boy Buddy Rogers in 1957, had been dormant or vacant, for a long time. Kirbys stints as champion backed by his reputation elsewhere made the title more valuable in the long run.
Kirby was more than adequate in the ring, much like his Nature Boy counterparts, Rogers, Flair and Landel. He also, much like them, was a pretty good showman. He often strutted around the ring with an arrogant swagger. His Nature Boy counterpart, Flair, has often said, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man." For awhile, in 1976 in the Gulas territory, Nature Boy Roger Kirby was the man.
Tommy Rich who had failed in earlier attempts to dethrone Southern champion Jerry Lawler finally defeated Lawler to win the title. Richs reign did not last long as he dropped the title to Gorgeous George, Jr. who promptly lost the title to Rocky Johnson. Johnson was a major star in the business having worked major territories such as Texas, California, Florida and Georgia. His feud with Lawler over the Southern title would spill over into 1977 with Lawler forming an army to battle not only Johnson but others he perceived as threats.
Although his Southern title reign was only a brief one, Tommy Rich was on a roll. Roger Kirby had defeated Bob Armstrong for the Mid-America title. Kirby then ran afoul of Rich who won the title. Rich then began a feud over the title with the returning Eddie Sullivan.
Danny Little Bear and Chief Thundercloud hit the area with Chuy, the Drummer Boy and latched onto the Southern tag titles defeating Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey. The Native American combination was challenged mainly by David Shultz and Dutch Mantell.
Upon losing the Southern tag titles Hickerson and Condrey captured the Mid-America tag titles. The duo ran through a variety of teams such as Ricky Gibson and Bob Armstrong, Ken Lucas and Bobby "Porkchop" Cash and the odd combination of Big Bad John and Dean Ho. By years end Hickerson and Condrey dropped the Mid-America tag titles to Bill Dundee and Ricky Gibson but were still a team to deal with in the area.
Appearing in the area at this time: Thunderbolt Patterson, The Samoans (Tio and Tapu, not Afa and Sika Anoia), The Masked Executioner, Don Bass (who had been unmasked as The Scorpion), Robert Gibson, Oki Shikina, Gentleman Ben the Wrestling Bear with trainer Nick Adams, Jim Dillion and Al Greene, who managed Tommy Gilbert and Roger Kirby. Greene also managed newcomer The Russian Stomper.
Late in the year, Gulas ran an angle probably run before and definitely run after in virtually every promotion everywhere. Eddie Sullivan was wrestling a TV match. He was harassed by a fan in the audience and Sullivan gave the harassment back. The fan eventually had enough and entered the ring only to get clobbered by Sullivan. There was enough interest though to sign a match between Sullivan and this fan identified as Cecil Hedge. Sullivan won the match and Hedge faded into oblivion making a TV appearance as a jobber from time to time in the next few years.
By, George, I Think Weve Got A Problem
George Gulas, son of promoter Nick Gulas, had been involved as a wrestler in the area since 1974. George, often billed as George Nick Gulas, was pushed to the top of the cards from day one. He had held various tag titles since his debut and remained near the top of cards throughout the area.
Despite being near the top of most of the cards George was not very accomplished as a professional wrestler. Physically, George looked more equipped to play basketball than participate in the ring. Even though he was fairly tall (64" or 65") George was clumsy. George also never gained much muscle mass during his time as a wrestler, although that wasnt as important in the 1970s as it would become in the 1980s and beyond. His offense in ring was poor. He often used a leg grapevine hold as a finisher but since his legs were so long the hold often looked unrealistic coming from someone his size especially after he often struggled placing the hold on his opponent. Since he was billed as being trained by Tojo Yamamoto, master of the karate chop, he threw chops also. Georges chops though looked extremely weak.
Since George received such a push it gave the impression that he didnt have to pay his dues like others had to before him. (Even in the Gulas territory, where often a ring newcomer could make a name quickly because of the constant need for talent, few, if any didnt have to pay some sort of dues in the territory by working opening matches and TV matches.) Maybe the logic behind the push was since he (George) had been around the business all his life he must know it really well. Maybe it was thought the fans would believe he must have gotten pointers from all the veterans he had seen and known over the years and thereby gained even more knowledge by watching these stars for years. Since he was pushed from his debut he was made to be nearly unbeatable. Another argument, which seems much likelier, states that George received such a push because his father was the boss. Very few have the talent and perseverance to achieve success after such a build-up. It was 1976, two years after Georges debut, apparently someone (Nick? George?) felt as if it was time George became more of a force in the area without regard to Georges obvious limitations in the ring.
Nick Gulas brought Gorgeous George, Jr. to the area during the summer. George, Jr. was named after the legendary wrestling star of the 1950s, Gorgeous George, although as is often the case in professional wrestling the two were not blood related. George, Jr. was a veteran of the territorial system having made a mark in the Amarillo territory operated by Dory Funk, Sr. as well as the Central States area, the Pacific Northwest, the Leroy McGuirk territory (Oklahoma-Louisiana-Mississippi) and other areas. George, Jr. had gained a good deal of fame for his work in Florida and Georgia, often teaming with Bobby Shane.
George, Jr. was a fascinating character in great part because he employed many of the mannerisms of his namesake. He came to the ring with Sir Bradley (sometimes with Suzette) who sprayed the ring with disinfectant. George then had Bradley remove golden bobby-pins from his hair and threw them to the audience. Somehow, these tactics made George, Jr. a fan favorite upon his arrival.
George, Jr. quickly made an impact in the area by winning the Southern title from Jerry Lawler. The title would go back to Lawler but the King made a foe he would see later on down the line. George, Jr. also formed a tag team early in his stay with George Gulas. The duo even laid claim to the Mid-America tag titles for a brief time.
As often occurs when two make a successful team the promoter sees money to be made by splitting the team and feuding them against each other. It wasnt long before George, Jr. turned heel and found himself in the ring against his former tag partner, George Gulas. Although Gulas had been featured in tag matches and even a 1975 feud with Mr. Suzuki this series was his first significant feud.
Gulas feud with Suzuki was Georges first singles feud but Suzuki had virtually no track record in the area so the feud in the grand scheme of the territory meant little. The tag team feuds Gulas had participated in had served to give Gulas much needed ring experience and expose him to others more talented who could cover his weaknesses but they also were merely footnotes in the territory compared to the antics of others at the time.
The feud with Gorgeous George, Jr. seemed obvious to get Gulas over as a major area singles star. George, Jr. had seen success in other territories. He had hit the Gulas territory and made an immediate impact. He even had defeated the areas top star Jerry Lawler for the Southern title. George, Jr. was the "son" of a legendary wrestler while George Nick Gulas was the son of the legendary area promoter.
The feud between George, Jr. and Gulas isnt memorable. Gulas did get some wins even though he was not the superior athlete or showman in the matches. No matter the outcome of the feud between the two "Juniors", things were about to change in the territory.
Jerry Jarrett booked the western end of the territory for Nick Gulas, including the red-hot Monday night shows in Memphis. Since the wrestlers were paid according to how many tickets were sold at each event most of those who worked for Gulas preferred to be booked for the shows that made the most money, in this case, the western end of the territory.
Nick Gulas began to question Jerry Jarrett as to why he rarely booked George Gulas on cards in the western end. After all, George had been around a few years. He had worked plenty of tag team matches. He had even scored a few wins over the well-known Gorgeous George, Jr., who had defeated Jarretts top draw on the western end, Jerry Lawler. Why wouldnt Jarrett use him in arenas where more fans could see him? Despite these "reasons" Jarrett had an answer. George Gulas was not good enough in-ring to work main events on the big shows.
Nick was then placed in a bind. Who would he side with? His son or the man responsible for making him money. The question was further complicated by the fact that Nicks promoting partner, Roy Welch, was in poor health and his role in the partnership was being assumed by Jarrett.
As the year ended the problem was unresolved. The western end continued to do good business and George Gulas rarely was booked there. The problem remained but would resolve itself, one way or another, in 1977.
The Gulas territory survived the opposition of Lou Theszs UWA during the year. Jackie Fargo slowed down some although he did spend part of the year in a red-hot feud with the dominating team of Phil Hickerson and Dennis Condrey. Jerry Lawler continued to perform at a high level despite the loss of his friend and manager Sam Bass to a July auto accident. Tommy Rich, mainly relegated to tag matches in 1975 became a solo star in 1976 by holding the areas two major titles, the Southern title and the Mid-America title with wins over Lawler and Roger Kirby. Things were humming along but some dissension was building as the year closed. Nick Gulas wanted his son George used more prominently on the hot western end of the territory but booker Jerry Jarrett, gaining more power as Roy Welchs health worsened, did not think that was a wise move. Nick was the boss but Jarrett was a major force behind the companys success. Gulas and Jarrett had a decision to make about the direction they would go in, and, in 1977, it would literally tear the territory in half.
1977 would reveal how Gulas and Jarrett handled the decision before them that had been
building for awhile. That and more in the next installment.
(Madison Magazine, December 1991)
By Pete Ehrmann
When the headline "The Apache Wars Not Over" appeared in the June 1, 1885, Wisconsin State Journal, Madisonians may have taken comfort in the fact that Geronimo was 2,000 miles southwest of town. But further into the newspaper they discovered that all was not exactly peaceable right here in the urbane capital of civilized Wisconsin.
Evan Lewis was on the warpath.
A century ago, professional wrestling was as truly violent a spectacle as its burlesque modern incarnation intends to be. Now either forgotten or confused with a later popular Wisconsin-born wrestler who borrowed his name, Evan Lewis, a native of tiny Ridgeway in Iowa County who moved to Madison in 1885 to pursue his wrestling career, was one of the most feared and famous figures in 19th Century sports.
"A cruel and really dangerous athlete," wrote ring historian Nat Fleischer of the 5-9, 180-lb. Lewis in his 1936 history of wrestling called "From Milo to Londos." "Lewis for many years held his own when pitted against the best men . . . and the country grew fairly wild over (him) and his wrestling ability."
"Wild" certainly described the scene when Lewis beat middleweight champion James Faulkner in Madison on May 31, 1885. Faulkner called the crowd "the worst he ever struck," and the State Journal itself noted that "the rowdyism displayed on the (wrestling) platform was truly disgraceful, while Lewis friends in the audience made a vast deal of noise."
What stirred up friends and foes alike when Lewis wrestled was the trademark maneuver that gave Evan Lewis his nickname "The Strangler." He "made no bones about his method," said Ring magazine in 1930, "which was to get an arm about the throat of an opponent and choke him until he whispered enough or was unable to whisper anything."
It was for real and perfectly legal in wrestling then under the "catch-as-catch-can" and "no-holds-barred" style the Chicago Tribune called at that time "one of the cruelest forms of sport permitted in any civilized community. The breaking of a leg, the crushing in of the ribs, the slow torture of tearing a limb from its socket is permissible and constitutional . . . " Ironically, boxing was illegal in most of the country then because it was considered too brutal.
Evan Lewis was born May 24, 1860. His father, William E. Lewis, was a Ridgeway farmer and butcher. How and why Evan became a professional wrestler is unknown now, but The Milwaukee Sentinel of July 22, 1888, in a story calling wrestling the equal of baseball in national popularity, probably was describing Lewis when it noted that "the most successful wrestlers come from the country and are usually men whose lives have been spent on a farm, where they have laid the foundation of a strong physical constitution and learned the first rudiments of their profession while tumbling on the meadows with their playmates and school fellows."
Just exactly how one went from such bucolic sport to choking opponents senseless cant be traced, but Lewis was first heard from in Montana in May, 1882, when he won a 64-man tournament. He was introduced as the Montana champion when he beat Ben Knight for the Wisconsin title in a Dodgeville match on March 21, 1883.
By the time Lewis moved to Madison in 1885, he had perfected the strangle hold that he claimed was taught to him by an opponent named Frank Whitmore. After he deflated James Faulkner with it even Faulkner, while decrying Lewis "harsh methods," conceded that the Wisconsinite "appears to have a bright future in the sporting world."
French champion Andre Christol left town after losing to Lewis on August 20 at Lake City Summer Garden "vowing that in all his 24 years of wrestling he had never encountered such a man." British wrestler Tom Cannon w;asnt saying much after his December 21 match with the Strangler; after Evan got his right forearm across the Britishers windpipe, Cannon was lucky he could talk at all.
Evan Lewis didnt invent the strangle hold, and nothing in the rules prevented others from using it on him. Henry Shellenberger got his hands around Lewis neck and choked him unconscious to win a fall in their July 25, 1887 match in Madison. Unfortunately for him, Lewis woke up in time to resume the match and then showed Shellenberger how it should be done.
Other wrestlers had their own violent specialties. A Japanese grappler named Matsada Sorakichi, known in that ethnically not-so-sensitive time as simply "The Jap," broke lots of ribs with his favorite tactic of ramming opponents with his head. So when he and Lewis were matched in Chicago on January 27, 1886, the Central Music Hall overflowed with customers anxious for blood.
Lewis had a 25-pound and one-and-a-half-inch height advantage, but Sorakichi was immensely strong. In between bouts he performed a stage act that consisted of twirling 250-lb. Indian clubs. The only things twirling after his match with Lewis, however, were Sorakichis eyeballs. Lewis strangled him so hard that The Jap, spitting blood, surrendered. When the latter protested, Lewis said he had gotten off easy. "I didnt choke The Jap. That is, not hard. When a mans choked he cant stand up and hes limp as a rag. I gave (Tom) Cannon the grip when I wrestled him and he didnt get over it for a week."
Sorakichi dared Lewis to wrestle again with the strangle hold barred. When Evan agreed, The Jap made sur he understood the rules. "You choke me," he told Lewis, "I shoot you."
"I will not choke you this time," promised Lewis, "but I will screw your leg off."
A trainload of Madisonians followed their hero to Chicago for the February 15 rematch. "No man ever had a more ardent and enthusiastic personal following than Evan Lewis," wrote the Chicago Herald. "To a man Madison swears by him, bets on him, brags on him, and the sun rises and sets on him."
That included the hometown press, which forgot its earlier scolding of Lewis and defended him against the Illini slurs. "From first to last, the Chicago papers have taken sides with the cooper-colored foreigner,""complained a February 8 editorial in the State Journal that lauded the hometown favorite as "" mere boy, with only that experience as a wrestler which he had picked up in friendly tussles with his companions at home."
Perhaps the famous bout of the last century, if not ever, certainly the Lewis-Sorakichi match was the only professional wrestling contest to make the front page of the New York Times. Interviewed in bed, "unable to turn on either side, his features distorted with pain," Sorakichi "in broken English attempted to describe how Lewis had tried to breakee the leg like a stick."
Over fifty years later, accounts of the match still referred to The Japs broken leg. But in truth the Oriental wrestler was back on the mat just three weeks later, wrestling on the same night, March 7, that Lewis faced Carl Moth in Milwaukee. Reverting to his pet strangle hold, Lewis beat the German at the Grand Opera House, but his performance didnt inspire any arias. When Evan took the victors customary bow at the footlights he was showered with cries of "Rats! Rats!" and a local paper said, "It is apparent that his brutal treatment of The Jap will not soon be forgiven."
For all his professional notoriety, on the street Evan Lewis did not go around choking everyone in sight. Even the Chicago Herald admitted, "Off the stage Lewis is quiet, modest and unassuming. There is no braggadocio about him and no evidence of any unnatural ferocity, but the moment he faces an opponent his whole nature seems to change and no one can control him in the least."
While he wrestled all over the country and overseas, Evan Lewis rural ties drew him back to Iowa County. In June, 1889, he bought the Wisconsin Hotel in Barneveld and ran it for many years while continuing on the mat. He enjoyed the rugged farming life, and trained for a match with English champion Charles Green (won easily by Lewis) by putting up 35 tons of hay with Barneveld neighbors in the two weeks before the bout.
Although occasionally defeated, Lewis beat the topo wrestlers of that era Joe Acton, Carkeek, Edwin Bibby and more. On March 2, 1893 he beat Ernest Roeber in New Orleans for the championship of the world. Before the 75-minute match, reported the New York Times, the referee announced that the strangle hold was barred, "at which Lewis smiled, while Roeber looked as if a great load had been lifted from his mind." Not to mention his throat.
By the mid-1890s, the strangle hold was generally declared out of bounds in wrestling because of its brutality. On April 20, 1895, Lewis met Martin "Farmer" Burns, an Iowan he had previously defeated. Thirty-five-year-old Evan, described by one paper as "fat as a prize pig," lost the match and title to Burns in Chicago. The result was so stunning that there were rumors of a fix; but Farmer Burns was a great wrestler himself, and Lewis was at the end of his career.
Upon his retirement from the mat, Evan returned for good to Ridgeway and lived a normal and very civilized life. He even served on the town board. He was a game warden and helped keep order at the State Fair. He also did the latter at Democratic Party caucuses, which were less likely to degenerate in battles royal with Sergeant-at-Arms Strangler Lewis on the scene.
When Evan Lewis died of cancer at age 59, on November 3, 1919, the news was reported in a single paragraph in the Madison press. "Veteran Wrestler Dies," announced one tiny headline, right beneath an item reporting the victory in New York of Joe Stecher over Ed "Strangler" Lewis for the heavyweight championship. The latter was born Robert Friedrich in Nekoosa, Wisconsin, but took the name of the original Strangler Lewis when he became a wrestler because his parents disapproved of the sport.
The second Strangler Lewis, whose specialty was actually the headlock, won his own mat fame and about $4 million in a long career, and though he only lived in Wisconsin for a few early years he was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame 40 years ago.
The original, who lived here his whole life, is not among the 80-plus athletes
enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
(Arizona Republic, April 14, 1931)
A couple of heavyweight tornadoes descended upon the ring of Phoenix Madison Square Garden last night, crowded more wrestling into about 25 minutes of work than is actually seen in a dozen bouts and sent the biggest crowd of 1931 into a frenzy of excitement unparalleled in the history of wrestling here.
The outcome: The Masked Marvel left the ring, his identity still shrouded behind the tight-fitting gauze that obscures his features from an anxious, yes, even clamorous crowd.
The Marvel is still masked because he succeeded in taking a two-in-three-falls verdict from George Kotsonaros in a bout that teemed with thrills, excitement and wrestling of a superlative nature.
What these two behemoths didnt give the fans last night simply isnt in the book or brain of man. Skill they had aplenty; speed of lightning was theirs; they had cunning and strength. In brief, their meeting was the work of a couple of finished products.
In three minutes and five seconds of actual mat work two falls had been determined. So rapid was the action that even ringsiders could not recall with any degree of accuracy just what happened in these two hilarious sessions.
Sixty seconds of milling in the first fall brought these things: an arm roll, one headlock, four reverse headlocks, five arm holds, quickly broken, one jackknife and a concluding "back-to-back" hold, the mystery hold conceived by the Masked Marvel himself and the first new hold perfected in wrestling in more than a year.
The suddenness with which the Marvel obtained this hold and pinned the Greeks shoulders was perhaps of far greater surprise to Kotsonaros than any one else in the arena.
With the sounding of the gong, the two men jumped to the middle of the ring and began whirlwind attacks. Both sought the offensive and the speed with which they worked foretold an early ending, for it would have been humanly impossible for two mortals to long continue the pace they set.
After 30 seconds, George applied the first of a series of four reverse headlocks that had the young giant pitching headlong to the canvas. As he endeavored to obtain a fifth, the Marvel slapped on his back-to-back hold and had the Greeks shoulders pinned in a flash.
The second fall saw action equally as swift, though the time lasted two minutes and five seconds. Every bit as aggressive as in the first fall, the two men were at each other even before the ring of the gong had died. At one minute, 35 seconds, Kotsonaros applied the first of a series of three reverse headlocks that had the Marvel dizzy. Then came the first of two crushing flying mares, the second of which sprawled the big fellow full length and gave Kotsonaros the victory.
When they came out for the third fall, the men were more cautious. Several times during the course of the 32 minutes of grappling, they flashed some of the speed of the first two falls but for no protracted durations. Instead, they settled down to "sane and sensible" grappling tactics. Both evidently were well-worn from the terrific paces of the first two falls, even though they lasted only a fraction more than three minutes.
For the first 31 minutes, there was little to choose between the men. First one and then the other would squeeze out of a tight hole. At the 31-minute station, though, Kotsy put on the first of a series of reverse headlocks. Four of these were applied in rapid succession. Then Kotsy sought to switch to the flying mare. As he turned, the Marvel grabbed him and crushed him to the floor, Kotsy underneath. The blow stunned the Greek and the Marvel gained the fall with a full body hold. The timers caught them in 32 minutes.
The preliminary also had its thrills with Spike OBrien of Phoenix evening the score with Guy Steele of Willcox for the defeat suffered a week ago by taking two falls in three in a no-time-limit match. Spike won the first and third falls in 20 and 6 minutes, respectively. The second went to Steele in six minutes.
OBrien is developing rapidly as was evidenced by the big improvement noted in his work last night. Steele is about as tough a youngster as has been seen hereabouts in a long time. And he has a good working knowledge of the game.
The local boy gave him grip for grip last night and came through the grueling encounter little the worse for wear.
His victory in the first fall came after a series of headlocks that left Steele helpless on the floor. Six of them were applied in succession, one of which OBrien held for more than three minutes.
Steeles victory in the second fall was recorded with a full-body slam while OBrien took the third and deciding fall with another series of headlocks.MARVEL MEETS GREEK HEAVY IN RE-MATCH
(Arizona Republic, May 11, 1931)
The mystery of the Masked Marvel which has been one of the greatest sensations the wrestling game in phoenix has ever experienced, ceases to be a mystery tonight at Phoenix Madison Square Garden where the Masked Marvel meets George Kotsonaros in the much discussed return bout.
Just as the two wrestlers are introduced, Harry McCarthy, manager of the Masked Marvel, will step into the ring and remove the black mask from his young wrestler and the bout will get started. McCarthy says that his boy is a far better wrestler without the mask and that the inconvenience occasioned by the heat and the fact that several of his opponents have twisted the mask and blinded the Marvel momentarily, caused him to decide to unmask the mystery.
It had been agreed not to unmask the Marvel until he was defeated but he has beaten every opponent he has met, has established beyond a doubt that he is really a great wrestler, and has a following such as few other grapplers ever had in Phoenix.
Kotsonaros made the statement in the dressing room after the announcement had been made that the Marvel would unmask, that the big youngster was beating the gun only a few minutes as he would have had to unmask at the finish of the bout had he not decided to take off the mask before. Kotsonaros has trained a month for this bout. He has seen the Marvel in action three times. He feels that he must win tonight or be eliminated from future consideration in Phoenix when the Eastern contingent of wrestlers return. The Greek is in wonderful shape and is going into the match with that fighting spirit that has made him a feared contender for the past 10 years.
The Marvel also appeared to be in wonderful shape at yesterdays workout when another packed arena gathered to see him in his final tryout. He worked nicely with his trainer, Jimmy Reynolds, for 10 minutes and then went at it with Sailor Jack Lewis for another 10 minutes. Lewis put everything he had into the workout and kept the Marvel watching his step every minute but the big fellow, with his usual flash, was always a step ahead of him.
Kotsonaros is banking on either his keylock or his flying mare hold to subdue the Masked Marvel while the Marvel will pin his hopes on his back-to-back slam. Although the Marvel entered the ring yesterday with his thumb tightly bandaged from an infection that resulted from a bite he received in a match against Count Micheloff. The injured member failed to interfere with his work.
Kotsonaros will tip the scales at 198 tonight and the Marvel will weigh around 208. The Marvel has taken off seven pounds of weight in the six weeks since he arrived here while Kotsonaros is exactly the same weight as he was the night the Marvel beat him.
Another packed house is the prospect tonight according to legion officials who report an extraordinaryily heavy advance seat sale. Following the announcement that the Masked Marvel would unmask there was a rush for tickets at both downtown ticket offices and matchmaker McPherson believes that another season record will be established. The biggest crowd that the Masked Marvel has drawn and the biggest crowd of the season to date was two weeks ago for his second match with Count Micheloff.
Because of an extra heavy program tonight, the first bout will start promptly at 8:30 oclock. In the first bout Guy Steel, the clever young grappler from Willcox, will meet Eddie Brought, coast middleweight, who made a hit last week against Jimmy Reynolds.
In the semi-final, Jimmy Reynolds, former middleweight champion, will go up against Hassen Azane, Turkish middleweight, who has been a sensation recently in the Northwest. Azane arrived in Phoenix yesterday after narrowly escaping death in an automobile accident.GREEK BEATS MARVEL; VICTIM IDENTIFIED
(Arizona Republic, May 12, 1931)
The reign of the Masked Marvel is over! At least for the present.
Identified as Jimmie Corrigan, former University of Minnesota athlete, who wrestled here several years ago in old Arcadia hall as "Cyclone Thompson," the erstwhile man of mystery dropped the first fall to George Kotsonaros in one hour and three minutes of their match last night at Madison Square Garden, and was injured so badly he was forced to forfeit the second fall and match to the Greek heavyweight.
The first fall came as the result of a series of backward body slams that left the victim of the Greeks wrestling wrath stretched senseless on the ring floor where he stayed until carried out on the shoulders of his handlers. Kotsonaros was also almost in a state of collapse as a result of the terrific pace set all the way, but after several minutes rest on the mat, he was able to walk to his dressing room.
At the expiration of the usual rest period, Kotsonaros returned to the ring and granted a request from Corrigan for an extra five minutes. The period over, Corrigan was assisted to the ring but collapsed on the floor as he attempted to mount the steps and was carried back to the dressing room in an unconscious condition. Physicians and handlers attended him in the dressing room but an hour after the match he was still groggy from the effects of his impact with the floor during the last sensational minute of the match.
Kotsonaros, too, was affected by the pace and while dissatisfied that he was deprived of taking two pin falls from his opponent, expressed the opinion it was the toughest match he was wrestled in many years.
Although defeated, Corrigan is still held in high esteem by mat critics and fans in Phoenix and undoubtedly will continue to be a big attraction in Phoenix for his splendid exhibitions both with and without a mask.
The black hood that has shrouded his features since his arrival in Phoenix about six weeks ago was removed by matchmaker C.L. McPherson as he climbed through the ropes last night to meet the Greek Hercules in a return match.
It was probably the most gruelling match ever staged in Phoenix, with both men in the pink of condition and carrying on with lightning-like speed.
No less than a score of times during the early part of the match, first one and then another of the grapplers seemed well on the road to victory, only to have his opponent rally and turn the tide.
At 45 minutes, Kotsonaros obtained a leg key hold which he applied with punishing affect for a period of minutes. When the Marvel succeeded in breaking the lock, his leg was so weakened that he could not stand on it. He assumed a sitting posture on the canvas and warded off the threat until strength returned to the member.
Before and after this, the Marvel had had George in numerous dangerous holds, but Kotsy always succeeded in wriggling loose.
It was an evening of much wrestling, the program continuing longer than any match in recent years.
In the semi-final, Frenchy Leavitte and Jimmy Reynolds went one hour to a draw with each man getting a fall while in the opening event, Guy Steel, Willcox, won a one-fall match from Spike OBrien of Phoenix.
Both Leavitte and OBrien were substitute grapplers, the first taking the place of Hassan Azani, Turkish light-heavyweight from California, who appeared at the ringside on crutches, having been injured in an automobile accident en route to Phoenix Sunday.
OBrien went on in place of Eddie Brought, also injured in an automobile accident.
The boys got pretty rough at times and created almost as much enthusiasm as the main eventers. A body slam and a full body hold gave Steel the victory in 26 minutes.
The Reynolds-Leavitte affair was of main event caliber on almost any wrestling card. Reynolds, outweighed 15 pounds, fought along on even terms with Leavitte until the final few minutes of the match, when the Frenchmans weight advantage began to have a telling effect.KRONE MOVES WRESTLERS TO OUTDOOR RING
(Washington Post, Tuesday, December 14, 1937)
Al Pereira, the man mountain from Portugal who claims the European wrestling championship, will return to Turners Arena for his second shot Thursday night on the Christmas Fund benefit card.
Pereira, who stole last weeks show with a victory over Abe Kashey, the Syrian
sizzler, has been matched with Vanka Zelezniak, the Russian Cossack, in a special
30-minute match in support of the feature bout between Jesse James and Chief Thunderbird.
Pereira has to his credit a draw with Jim Londos. That was last week in Baltimore when the ring broke down, much to the embarrassment of both wrestlers.
(Savannah Morning News, February 13, 1933)
By I.C. Brenner
Ernest Roeber is seventy-three years old, yet physically fit to romp around the mat for an hour or more refereeing championship wrestling matches. He often is booed because he has slowed up a bit and cannot get out of the way of flying tackles quickly enough to suit those who think that he interferes with the wrestlers too much, but the fans admit that there isnt an official in the game today who knows more about wrestling and is more capable than the veteran Roeber.
Ernest is the dean of the New York State staff of wrestling officials and obtains the best assignments. There are three good reasons for this favoritism. First, Ernest is a personal friend of William Muldoon, the Grand Old Man of Sport, who is a member of the commission. Second, Ernest has been longer in the game than any man in the sport today. And third, because he is fearless and refuses to stand for any nonsense.
Roeber, former champion who preceded Gotch and Hackensschmidt, was a master of wrestling technique. Not only was he adept in his specialty but he knew considerable about boxing and often was hired as trainer to the leading figures in pugilism. Roeber trained Bob Fitzsimmons for several of his fights, including that in which he beat Jim Corbett for the title with a solar plexus punch. He accompanied William Muldoon on many of that famous wrestlers tours.
Now his hair is gray. His forehead is wrinkled. His eyes are not quite as sharp as they were when he was in his prime and his legs are not as nimble as they used to be, but he still leads em all when it coms to handling the big men in the ring.ON THE SIDELINES
(Associated Press, Tuesday, February 14, 1933)
By Edward J. Neil
The problem of dealing intelligently with heavyweight wrestling is becoming more perplexing all the time for the serious minded commissions that try to retain dignity, and at the same time rule over the antics of the naïve fumblers.
For instance, the heavyweight champion in New York state is Strangler Ed Lewis, duly recognized as such, but in the same breath the state athletic commission inists that because of the nature of the present type of wrestling performance they can be billed only as "exhibitions."
The question naturally pops up: how can a wrestler win or lose a championship if the performances are not officially considered contests?
Now, in New Jersey, several parts of the middle west and other assorted territory, the heavyweight champion is Jim Londos. He also was king in New York state until he moved out of town recently, refusing to meet Lewis in a little "exhibition," and returned not only dethroned but apparently perfectly satisfied with his status.
But in Canada Henry DeGlane is champion and Gus Sonnenberg, the Dartmouth guard, is the mammoth who moves in and out of New England as champion, and through an affiliation with the Canadian territory, occasionally struggles for supremacy with DeGlane.
But as far as New Yorks polyglot wrestling fandom is concerned, the handsome Greek, "Jeem" Londos is king. He came back to wrestle Abie Coleman at the St. Nicholas Arena the other night and 7,000 jammed their way into a hall that holds 6,000.
The overflow, and those outside still clamoring to get in when police closed the doors, tore away four fire exits. Every Greek restaurateur and his helper, every bootblack and Greek merchant, seemed to be in the house bellowing for the king.
But here is one story that comes of a personal observation to indicate just what serious minded persons who look upon wrestling as a sport are up against.
It happened in an armory in downtown New York when wrestlers seemed ready to kill themselves or each other in their zeal to impress the public.
One of the wildest of the pachyderm herd was Stanley Stasiak, a butt-chested Pole who trumpted around a ring like Tarzan of the Apes calling the gorillas out of the trees. He delighted in trying to twist off legs and arms, tear off ears and noses. He was the villain of the troupe. Stasiak since has died.
He had a rival in this specialty, a blond man mountain still wrestling, and very carefully were these two kept out of the same ring. It was evident there could be nothing less than murder if they ever collided.
So, naturally, when the public demand for the slaughter reached its height, the promoter agreed to sacrifice one or the other and matched them. The house was packed.
I wandered into the wrestlers dressing room just before the main bout was to go on. And there sat Stasiak and his man-eating friend, side by side on a rubbing table, eating apples Stanley had bought from a peddler outside.
In between gulps they were arguing over which had recently made the better buy in new automobiles!
A few seconds later someone yelled for the main bout. The two jumped off the table, threw away their cores, and without a harsh word or preliminary warning started clawing each other.
They struggled through the door into the arena, into full view of the spectators, fighting bitterly. Police pulled them apart. They fought all the way to the ring.
Once in there, Stasiak had to be held while announcements were made. He kept screaming across the ring:
"I keel you! I keel you!"
And after the next hour was over, the wildest I have ever seen, they went out together to see which actually had bought the better car.WRESTLER PAT REILLY TO MARRY IN SEATTLE
(Associated Press, Saturday, January 6, 1934)
EVERETT, Wash. Ted Thye, Portland heavyweight, won two falls out of three to defeat Pat Reilly of Boston here last night in a wrestling bout. Reilly won the opener in the third round with a body press, but Thye took two falls in the fourth and fifth with shoulder presses.
After the match Reilly, whose real name is Charles Marian Guy, 24 years old, disclosed
that he would be married on Sunday night at Seattle to Miss Arline Smith, 20 years old,
Everett newspaper woman.
JIM McMILLEN THROWS LEWIS AT COLISEUM
(Chicago Tribune, October 21, 1936)
Father Time, aided by Jim McMillen, finally caught up with Ed (Strangler) Lewis last night at the Coliseum Annex as the 45-year-old former heavyweight champion was beaten after 23 minutes 10 seconds of wrestling. McMillen threw Lewis, who has campaigned for 27 years, with a flying tackle after breaking a series of headlocks. The 1,500 fans had anticipated a Lewis victory. Gross receipts were $1,400.
Danny Winters, Chicago recruit, made his big league debut against the veteran, Chief Little Wolf, in the 30-minute semifinal which ended in a draw. Other results:
Andy Rascher drew Dan Koch, 21:10; Olaf Oleson threw Jim Jaras, 12:28; Ed Newman and
Pat Murphy drew, 20:00.
WAWLI REDUX No. 40
GRUNTERS PAY IS REDUCED
(Associated Press, November 15, 1939)
NEW YORK Its a sad state the old sport of wrestling has reached hereabouts.
For several years the New York State Athletic Commission has refused to recognize any wrestling championships, ruling all bouts must be billed as "exhibitions." Yesterday, at the request of Jess McMahon, representing various mat promoters, the commissioners agreed to reduce the minimum wage of wrestlers from $10 to $8 per exhibition.
MUSE OF MATS PENS POETRY WHEN NOT BUSTING BEAKS
(Associated Press, Friday, January 31, 1940)
MEMPHIS, Tenn. Music may have charms to soothe the savage breast, but its poetry his own that turns the trick for Charles (Curley) Forde, better known in professional wrestling circles as "The Wild Irishman."
In ferocious combat, Forde, a 210-pound wrestler with a bulging, hairy chest, has battered many an opponent into a bloody daze then gone home, shucked his lethal mood, and penned such tender little lyrics as this:
I shall known peace
In some far, distant day
When you have gone away;
When time has dull this
And I am content to be . . .
Promoters, indifferent to his literary efforts, bill the bulky Memphian as "The Wild Irishman." Forde is of the opinion that "The Wild Irish Poet" billing might reap richer dividends at the gate.
Now 29, he started writing poetry nine years ago about the time he became a professional wrestler.
His record to date: 1,285 matches and "about fifteen or twenty" published poems, most of them appearing in Memphis newspapers. In his spare time, Forde sells beauty shop supplies.
"I dont know how I started writing," the curly-haired matman-muse reflected. "I had thoughts and wanted to express them. I just put down what I feel."
Forde says he fights about three times a week. Most of his matches are in the South because he doesnt like to get too far away from his sales job.
Curley finished the second year of high school, but wasnt interested then in any kind of writing at all. He doesnt profess to know anything about the mechanics of poetry.
"Metre, as far as Im concerned, is just something the gas man reads," sighed the belting bard.
Love is a sort of chosen subject with Forde. In the following poem, one of his favorites which he dashed off in "about five minutes," he tells of it:
My love . . .
Is the low sweet moan
Of morning wind across the moors.
When dawn is creeping,
Grey fingers streaking
A purpling sky.
Salt spray against my face
From wild waves breaking
Fierce upon rocky crags
Wild things are these,
My love and I.
Curley said wrestling fans are always after him for copies of his poems. Women fans are particularly fond of them.
"They like my poetry," he grinned, "but hate me for living. You see, Im something of a villain in the ring. I go kinda nuts when my Irish gets up and sometimes I take a sock at the referee or some fan who gets in my hair."
COLEMAN PINS DIZZY DAVIS AT RAINBO
(Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1941)
Abe Coleman, New York Jewish heavyweight, won his third Chicago match in recent weeks when he defeated Dizzy Davis last night in 16:04 in the Rainbo Fronton Arena. Davis conceded the fall when Coleman applied a full Nelson hold.
TILLET WINS BENEFIT WRESTLING BOUT
(Chicago Tribune, Thursday, January 30, 1941)
Maurice (The Angel) Tillet last night threw the heavyweight wrestler billed as Lord Albert Mills of England in 14 minutes and 26 seconds of their match in the Ashland Boulevard auditorium. Profits of the show were donated to the infantile paralysis fund. Other results:
Karl Pojello pinned Dick Stahl, 14:09.
Hans Steinke and Frank Judson drew, 30 minutes.
Americo Esposito pinned Tom Casey, 22:14.
Gus Sonnenberg pinned Scarface Monigan, 8:05.
SILVERSTEIN PINS COLEMAN ON RAINBO MAT
(Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1941)
Ruffy Silverstein pinned Abe Coleman with a back body press in 31 minutes and 4 seconds last night in the Rainbo Fronton Arena before more than 2,000 fans. Other results:
Dizzy Davis and Mike London drew (30:00).
Paul Bozzell threw Gene Bowman (10:12).
Frankie Hill downed Rufus Jones (18:00).
ULINE ARENA UNVEILS MAT CARD TONIGHT
(Washington Post, Monday, December 15, 1941)
Goldie Ahearn comes back as a wrestling promoter at Ulines Arena tonight when he teams up with Jack Pfefer in the promotion of a five-event novelty show at 8:30 oclock.
For their first show Ahearn and Pfefer have rounded out an attractive wrestling program. Double features headlining the show and restricted to a one-hour time limit are to bring together Bobby Bruns, American claimant of the worlds heavyweight title, vs. the Swedish Angel, and Tony Martinelli vs. Karol Krauser.
The firey Martinelli and smooth-working Krauser wrestled to a spectacular two-hour draw here two years ago. The scientific and popular Bruns will be favored to wear down and defeat the rougher working Swedish Angel, whose claims to the title of the worlds ugliest human remain unchallenged.
A probably show-stealer revolves around a riotous wrestling royal in which 260-pound Abe Simon, hero of a 13-round stand against worlds heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, will be installed as referee and empowered with the right to use his fists.
This free-for-all, hampered by few restrictions, will involve Chief Bamba Tabu, Seminole Indian; Pierre DeGlane, champion of France; King Kong Marshall, Oklahoma cowboy, and Adolf Von Schacht, monacled Austrian.
A special event finds Betty Labushey, French Canadian woman claimant of the worlds lightweight championship, paired with Soszka Burska, while an opening number involving mustachioed mammals introduces Mustafa Hamid, powerful Turk, vs. Benny Feldman, 310-pound Man Mountain.
LA RENTREE DHENRI DEGLANE
(Le Monde, 5 Octobre 1946)
Le gala de reouverture de la salson de catdch au Palais des Sports aura lieu deman samedi a 20 h. 30, avec la rentree dHenri Deglane, ancien champion du monde, de retour dAmerique du Nord, qui rencontrera le champion dAngleterre, Felix Gregory. Cette soiree sera marquee, egalement, par les debuts de Rene Florent, recordman du monde de polds et halteres, oppose au champion du Yorkshire, Chic Knight, et par trois autres combats.
RUFFY KEEPS HIS $1,000; MIQUET DEFEATS MARLIN
(Chicago Tribune, Thursday, April 26, 1951)
Francois Miquet won two out of three falls from Farmer Marlin to head last nights wrestling production at Rainbo Arena. Miquet took the first fall in 13:58 with a leg scissors. A Marlin drop kick squared matters, setting the chance for Miquet to triumph with application of a body press.
Ruffy Silverstein, appearing in a supporting role, protected his $1,000 cash offer to anyone who can pin him within 30 minuts by beating Frank Marconi. Ruffys offer still holds.
TV FORCES CANCELLATION OF MAT SHOW
(Globe & Mail, Toronto, Thursday, June 5, 1952)
Television, the dread enemy of professional sports, fired its first fatal shot at Toronto entertainment yesterday.
Promoter Frank Tunney, cognizant that Torontos 20 or 30 thousand TV sets will be tuned in on the Walcott-Charles heavyweight title fight this evening, has canceled his wrestling program scheduled for Maple Leaf Gardens tonight.
Cancellation was, by popular request of Tunneys dearest friends and gentlest hearts the wrestling customers. On bended knees, they besieged his Church St. headquarters, and in broken voices beseeched him via telephone to make it possible for them to see the fight on TV tonight, and the Whipper Watson-Hans Hermann wrestling epic with Jack Dempsey refereeing as well. Whew!
The only way Tunney figured he could lend his friends a helping hand was to postpone the Watson-Hermann-Dempsey program until next Thursday. Which he did. Customers who have already purchased tickets for the wrestles tonight will have them honored for next weeks date.
Toronto TV sets will pick up tonights title fight over Buffalo station WBEN at 10 oclock, while radio listeners can tune in for a blow-by-blow account over CJBC at the same time.
(RETURN TO WAWLI PAPERS INDEX PAGE)